The south facade of Olana, the historic estate of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, located in Hudson, NY.
Photo: Stan Ries

Look Inside the Enchanting Estate of a Historic Hudson River Painter

Once home to Frederic Edwin Church, this one-of-a-kind mansion reveals intimate secrets about the artist
The new book showcases the magnificent architecture and landscape of Frederic Edwin Church’s estate (Rizzoli, $60). Photo: Larry Lederman / Courtesy of Rizzoli

Frederic Edwin Church is remembered as a painter of sublime landscapes, but a new book reveals that the artist had an eye for architecture as well. Frederic Church’s Olana on the Hudson: Art, Landscape, Architecture (Rizzoli, $60) showcases the artist’s home, which overlooks the Catskill Mountains from its hilltop perch in Hudson, New York. What’s more, it delves into the details of Church’s design process, revealing the artist’s intimate involvement in the unique castle’s construction.

“I match every stone that is laid, examine every timber, direct almost everything no matter how trivial,” Church wrote to a friend about the construction of Olana. After traveling to the Middle East, he had returned to Hudson keen on implementing elements of Persian architecture into his home, though, he admitted in a letter, “I have never been [to Persia]… I am obliged to imagine Persian architecture, then embody it on paper.”

An aerial view of Olana with the Catskill Mountains in the distance. Photo: Steve Cohen

Edited by Julia B. Rosenbaum and Karen Zukowski with photographs by Larry Lederman, the book tours the historic house and its many resplendent rooms, which are adorned in beautiful furnishings, incredible art, and the many objects that Church collected during his global expeditions. Church’s estate served as a window into other worlds and cultures. Drawn to nature from a young age, he sketched prolifically during his extensive travels and enraptured viewers back home with his depictions of other worlds.

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Today’s artists continue to find inspiration in this monumental estate, and it’s frequently used as an exhibition space or for artist residencies. Last year, landscapes by artist Teresita Fernandez were installed as part of an exhibition within the mansion entitled “Overlook,” and a 2015 show called “River Crossings” featured work by artists like Chuck Close and Martin Puryear.

See below for a closer look inside the storied estate.

The stairwell of the house manifests Church’s love for ornamental, Middle Eastern-inspired designs, with most surfaces thus embellished in some way. Photo: Larry Lederman
The Churches’ collections of objects from the Middle East and Mexico, as well as their old master paintings, are on display throughout the house. The window is framed by an extravagant design, a deliberate choice by Church, who likened the view from Olana to a beautiful painting. Photo: Larry Lederman
Church’s designed view from across the man-made lake to the house. Photo: Larry Lederman
View west to the Catskills, the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Church’s teacher, Thomas Cole, lived across the river and was considered the founder of the Hudson River School. It was during his time as Cole’s student that Church developed an eye for nature. Photo: Larry Lederman
View from Olana in winter with Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrable (1990). Photo: Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. © 2017 Peter Aaron/OTTO

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