The current eruption of Cotopaxi makes me come back to one artist, considered as "the painter of Cotopaxi", Frederic Edwin Church.
Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) was a pupil of Thomas Cole, considered as the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement bringing together landscape painters to the aesthetic vision of romance imprint.
Inspired by the works of Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist and explorer who visited the American continent from 1799 to 1804, Church went to the discovery of these magnificent landscapes twice, in 1853 and 1857.
These early works depict a volcano cone relative peaceful ... a little steam emanating from the crater, but no evidence of major eruption.
Frederic Edwin Church, Cotopaxi, 1855 - Oil on canvas, 7x16 inches.- Courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
During his second visit to Ecuador, Church witnessed the eruption of the Sangay. His description shows that in fact the phenomenon impressed him greatly and his paintings will reflect this.
(*) description by Church of the eruption of Sangay (Université de Potsdam - Frank Baron - From Alexander von Humboldt to Frederic Edwin Church: Voyages of Scientific Exploration and Artistic Creativity) :
“Gradually the clouds broke away, the sun shone and gilded with refined gold every slope and ridge that it could touch. Patches of open sky revealed the most lovely blue in contrast to the rich coloring.
My sketch finished, I turned my face, and Lo! Sanga[y], with its imposing plume of smoke stood clear before me. I was startled. Above a serrated, black, rugged group of peaks which form the crater, the columns arose, one creamy white against an opening of exquisitely blue sky, delicate white, cirrus formed, flakes of vapor hung about the great cumulus column and melted away into the azure. The other, black and somber, piled up in huge, rounded forms but sharply against the dazzling white of the column of vapor and piling up higher and higher, gradually was diffused into a yellowish tinted smoke through which would burst enormous heads of black smoke which kept expanding, the whole gigantic mass gradually settling down over the observer in a way that was appalling.
I commenced a sketch of the effect, but constant changes rapidly followed and new beauties were revealed as the setting sun created the black smoke with burnished copper and white cumulus cloud with gold. At intervals of nearly four in five minutes an explosion took place; the first intimation was a fresh mass of smoke with sharply defined outlines rolling above the dark rocks followed by a heavy, rumbling sound which reverberated among the mountains. I was so impressed by the changing effects that I continued making rapid sketches; but all the time I had from the moment I saw the first of them until the sunset was twenty minutes. Dense clouds again settled over the mountains and night took the place of day. The curtain had dropped.”
From 1861 the volcano is shown erupting, whose fumes darkened the sky.
In 1862, Church depicts a larger eruption plume, which partially hides the sun, suggesting a cataclysmic event.
As neither Church, nor Humboldt, have experienced this extreme form of eruption, the painter make here a work of dramatic fiction, where his references to the eruption of the Sangay mingle with his memories of Cotopaxi.
Frederic Edwin Church - Oil Study of Cotopaxi - 1861 - Collection of Nelson C.White / SchillerInstitute.org
Frederic Edwin Church - Oil on canvas, 9-9 / 16 x 17-1 / 16 inches. - 1865 - Private collection / via Antiques and fine arts.
Université de Potsdam - Frank Baron - From Alexander von Humboldt to Frederic Edwin Church: Voyages of Scientific Exploration and Artistic Creativity
Antiques and fine arts – The worlds of Frederic Edwin Church by William Gerdts