Christopher Pearse Cranch
Christopher Pearse Cranch was a man of many talents. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, the minister-turned poet-turned artist, prepared for his future success at Harvard’s prestigious Divinity School before formally joining the Unitarian ministry. Although Cranch would remain strong in his religious views and convictions, he eventually transitioned from speaking at the pulpit to speaking through the medium of words. As a poet, Cranch authored numerous works that demonstrated his interest and attention to myriad subjects; for instance, some of his poems addressed the beauty to be found in an autumn night or the sublimeness of that “awful water-fall,” Niagara, while others called for the conservation of America’s forests. Not surprisingly, Cranch eventually turned his artistic sensibility to a more visual format – painting. Joining artists such as Jasper F. Cropsey and Asher B. Durand, Cranch traveled throughout New England in the hope of finding inspiration in American scenery. The artist would also travel to Europe, remaining in Italy and France for a number of years, while exhibiting French and American landscape paintings at the Parisian Salon.
Cranch’s theories concerning art aligned with the popular nineteenth-century religious movement termed “Transcendentalism.” Headed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, transcendentalists encouraged Americans to individually recognize their own spirituality, mostly through self-reflection. Like Emerson, other famous transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau found spirituality while in commune with nature. Following the beginning of the movement, writers, artists, and many American citizens spoke of nature as a means to find spirituality. Tourism to forested areas of “untouched” lands, such as the Catskill Mountains, also likely increased due to transcendentalist thought.
As described in Nancy Stula’s 2007 article from American Art Review, Cranch’s canvases tended to reveal his new religious beliefs and associations. Many of Cranch’s paintings, including Sunset Landscape and Niagara: American Falls conjure feelings of awe and astonishment in the face of God’s creations. It was this painted manifestation of religion and morality for which Cranch is remembered.