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Frederic Edwin Church was an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, best known for painting large landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets.
Niagara was his most important work to date, and confirmed his reputation as the premier American landscape painter of the time. In his history of Niagara Falls, Pierre Berton writes, "Of the hundreds of paintings made of Niagara, before Church and after him, this is by common consent the greatest." The Falls were commonly painted, being such an attraction to landscape artists that, writes John Howat, they were ""the most popular, the most often treated, and the tritest single item of subject matter to appear in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European and American landscape painting"". Moreover, the public was captivated by the natural wonder of the Falls, considered a landmark of the North American landscape and a major tourist destination. In the 1850s, Niagara was the subject of millions of stereographs, and its image could be found on wallpaper, china, and lampshades, among other consumer items. For Americans, the Falls symbolized the grandeur and expansionism of the United States.
Church studied Niagara Falls extensively leading up to 1857, making dozens of pencil and oil studies. His final painting is of Horseshoe Falls, the largest and most iconic of Niagara's three waterfalls. His extensive study of water allowed him to render the mist and rainbows created within with striking realism and beauty. The composition leads the eye laterally. Church brings the viewer to the lip of the falls, highlighting the impressive drop by painting in streams of water and cloudy mists. The vantage point was notably dramatic and unique at its time, immersing the viewer directly in the scene, as if airborne or even in the water, and highlights the imminent danger of reaching the fall's edge.