Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900)

The Iceberg, c. 1875

Oil on canvas, 22 x 27 in. (55.9 x 68.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1993.6

Throughout his long career, Frederic Edwin Church traveled to—and painted scenes of—a range of exotic locales, from equatorial South America to the Arctic. This work shows a schooner gliding by a shadowy iceberg; the setting sun illuminates the upper reaches of the frozen structure. The ship’s translucent sails suggest its apparent fragility in contrast to the solid, towering mass rising from the dark sea. The iceberg’s jagged contours reflect the violence of its formation, while the steep incline of its terrace lines—the result of gradual tipping as it melts underwater—signals its inevitable demise. Church painted The Iceberg from memory, nearly two decades after his initial Arctic voyage, assisted by his oil sketches of the region. The resulting work thus consolidates firsthand observation and distant recall into an evocative meditation on human frailty and the relentless passage of time.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.