Alexander von Humboldt and Aimée Bonpland at Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador

Chimborazo, Ecuador
Oil on canvas
163 x 226 cm
Photo courtesy of bpk. Berlin/Stiftung Preussische Schlösserund Gärten/Hermann Buresch/Art Resource, NY. Photo by Jörg P. Anders.
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Explorer, geographer, and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) had a profound effect on the visual arts. Through his expeditions and writings, he encouraged artists to experience nature, advocating for landscape painting as a way to convey the complexity of a site. Using scientific inquiry, Humboldt argued, artists could convey the many topographical characteristics of a place. Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt and his team of naturalists were led by indigenous guides through present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, and Mexico, concluding their trip in the United States of America. Humboldt famously ascended Ecuador’s Chimborazo volcano and analyzed currents in the Pacific Ocean. Here, the German artist depicted a scene of Humboldt and his fellow traveler, Aimée Bonpland, standing at the base of Chimborazo. By representing the noted scientist in a detailed and natural landscape, Weitsch emphasized the impact Humboldt had on painters like himself, Johann Mortiz Rugendas, Ferdinand Bellermann, and Frederic Edwin Church among others, all of whom studied Humboldt’s texts and meticulously retraced his footsteps across the Americas.