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   Frederic Edwin Church Painting 


            
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution   
   This small oil sketch by the great American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826 - 1900) clearly depicts crepuscular rays or cloud shadows streaming upwards from a sun just below the horizon. Amber-tan rays light the air. Where it is shadowed by clouds, blue sky and a thin crescent moon are revealed.





   
               

The painting was until recently thought by art historians to be a study for his painting Aurora Borealis!  It is now claimed to be of a sunset near Church's home at Olana in the Hudson Valley looking westwards with the Catskill Mountains on the right.

There is, however, a problem - the crescent moon. A waxing crescent moon never appears to the right of

 

   the sunset point outside of the tropics in the Northern hemisphere.  The rays cannot be anti-crepuscular because crescent moons do not appear opposite the sun. Church's portrayals of nature were usually so accurate that it is difficult to believe that he got it wrong. The sketch could be of a sunrise looking eastwards in the Hudson Valley, alternatively it could be a sunset seen by Church during his travels in Ecuador and Jamaica.