Frederic Edwin Church’s painting, Aurora Borealis, is an 1865 portrayal of the spectacular natural light display known as the Northern Lights. The artwork measures 142.3 by 212.2 centimeters and currently belongs to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This magnificent painting depicts an explorer’s ship entombed in ice and emphasizes the harsh conditions of Arctic expeditions.
Church drew from two different sketches for inspiration in creating this landscape artwork. In keeping with his self-identification as “an American Humboldt” who appreciated both art and science, Church infused his masterpiece with symbolic meanings which may not be evident at first glance.
The style of Luminism accurately captures the brilliance displayed by Aurora Borealis, highlighting unique features such as spectacle lights from terrestrial phenomena that include meteor showers or other astronomical events above ice-locked ships— all elements that he capably captured in this beautiful artwork.