Edmund Darch Lewis, Edge of a Forest on the Susquehanna River (Early Morning)

Date
1866
Medium
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Museum purchase, 2018
Dimensions
40 1/2 x 69 1/2 in.

Darch Lewis was considered one of the greatest landscape painters of his time. Like his mentor and friend Frederic Church, he developed dramatic effects of light and atmosphere as an expression of the spirituality he found in nature. In Edge of a Forest on the Susquehanna River (Early Morning) thick yellow paint makes the rising sun a sculptural presence, its radiant energy and color seeming to dissolve the solid forms of the mountains. Light touches and brings life to every element of nature, interacting with the clouds and the sky, reflecting on and traveling through water, and casting warm shadows into its depths.

The historical context of this painting is significant. In 1866, one year after the end of the Civil War, Darch Lewis presented this ambitious canvas at the spring exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The war’s devastating carnage and the assassination of President Lincoln were unfathomable, painful wounds that were felt across the fractured nation.

Edge of a Forest on the Susquehanna River (Early Morning) looks forward with hope. The dramatic sunrise suggests the promise of a new day and a new chapter in the country’s history. Two figures standing at the edge of the woods gaze in reverence at a broken tree in the center foreground that sprouts new leaves. One figure holds his hand over his heart. The new life of the tree is a symbol of the nation as it heals itself after the tragedy and horror of recent events.

Paintings such as this, which are designed to make a grand public statement, made Darch Lewis’s reputation. He was a prolific artist who amassed great wealth from the sale of his work. He threw an annual party every September in his center city mansion that launched the social season of Philadelphia’s elite. He was also known as a leading Philadelphia citizen who volunteered his time and fortune to public causes.

 

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