Frederic Edwin Church and his fellow 19th-century landscape painters—many of whom were known as Hudson River School painters in accordance with the oft-depicted locale—extolled not only the natural wonders of the northeastern United States, but also those of the American West, South America, Europe, and the Near East, providing armchair travelers with views of exotic scenery most had never seen.
In 1853, Church embarked on a trip to South America, inspired in large part by the writings of prominent German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). The artist was particularly interested in the scientist's epic volume Cosmos: Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe. Von Humboldt encouraged artists to record—and therefore share with viewers—the locale's diverse tropical features, for he understood the icy mountaintops, arid deserts, and steamy rainforests as evidence of a divine harmony in nature. Church heeded Von Humboldt's call, retracing his route through the Andes and recording in meticulous pencil and oil sketches details of nature and life along the Magdalena River in Colombia. Upon returning to his New York studio, he created Tamaca Palms using these studies, including those of the tamaca species of palm and the boat in the foreground, known as a champan or bongo. His attention to minute detail in the canvas shows the indelible influence of his teacher, Thomas Cole (1801–1848); moreover, it led one critic to deem Church "the very painter Humboldt so longs for in his writings."