Thomas Cole

American Hudson River School Artist

1801 - 1848

Portrait of Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole was a 19th century American artist. He is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century. Cole's Hudson River School, as well as his own work, was known for its realistic and detailed portrayal of American landscape and wilderness, which feature themes of Romanticism and Naturalism.

He was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England. In 1818 his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Steubenville, Ohio, where Cole learned the rudiments of his profession from a wandering portrait painter named Stein. However, he had little success painting portraits, and his interest shifted to landscape. Moving to Pittsburgh in 1823 and then to Philadelphia in 1824, where he drew from casts at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he rejoined his parents and sister in New York City early in 1825.

In New York he sold three paintings to George W. Bruen, who financed a summer trip to the Hudson Valley where he visited the Catskill Mountain House and painted the ruins of Fort Putnam. Returning to New York he displayed three landscapes in the window of a bookstore; according to the New York Evening Post, this garnered Cole the attention of John Trumbull, Asher B. Durand, and William Dunlap. Trumbull was especially impressed with the work of the young artist and sought him out, bought one of his paintings, and put him into contact with a number of his wealthy friends including Robert Gilmor of Baltimore and Daniel Wadsworth of Hartford, who became important patrons of the artist.

Cole was primarily a painter of landscapes, but he also painted allegorical works. The most famous of these are the five-part series, 'The Course of Empire', now in the collection of the New York Historical Society and the four-part 'The Voyage of Life'. There are two versions of the latter, one at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the other at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York.

Cole influenced his artistic peers, especially Asher B. Durand and Frederic Edwin Church, who studied with Cole from 1844 to 1846. Cole spent the years 1829 to 1832 and 1841-1842 abroad, mainly in England and Italy; in Florence he lived with the sculptor Horatio Greenough.

After 1827 he maintained a studio at the farm called Cedar Grove in the town of Catskill, New York. He painted a significant portion of his work in this studio. In 1836 he married Maria Bartow of Catskill, a niece of the owner, and became a year-round resident. He died at Catskill on February 11, 1848. The fourth highest peak in the Catskills is named Thomas Cole Mountain in his honor. Cedar Grove, also known as the Thomas Cole House, was declared a National Historic Site in 1999.

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Hudson River School Art Trail, New York
National Recreation Trails Program

From: The Art Renewal Center

Often considered the father of American landscape painting as well as the founder of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole immigrated to America from Lancashire, England, when he was age eighteen. After spending a year in Philadelphia, Cole joined his family in the town of Steubenville, Ohio. While in England, Cole had been an apprentice to a designer of calico prints, and in Steubenville, he found work drawing patterns and possibly engraving woodblocks for his father's paper-hanging business. In Steubenville, Cole also began to explore landscape painting after gaining some rudimentary instruction in oil painting from a portrait painter named Stein. In 1823, Cole went with his family to Pittsburgh, where he again became an assistant in his father's business and made landscape sketches in his free time.

Inspired by the landscapes of Thomas Doughty and Thomas Birch which he saw at the Pennsylvania Academy during a stay in Philadelphia from 1823 to 1825, Cole became dedicated to a career as a landscape painter. In Philadelphia, he began to consider the distinctive characteristics of American scenery, but it was not until he moved to New York in 1825 that he turned his thoughts to his art. The works he produced after a sketching trip up the Hudson River in the summer of 1825 attracted the attention of New York's prominent artists and patrons. From this time until the end of his career, Cole enjoyed fame as a pre-eminent American landscape painter, and created works that influenced a generation of native artists who followed his lead in focusing on the sublime beauty and grandeur of the country's wilderness scenery. In 1829, Cole became one of the founding members of the National Academy of Design, and departed on a trip to Europe. Traveling through England, France, and Italy, he viewed works by the Old Masters and contemporary artists and explored European landscape sites. A second trip to Italy, from 1831 to 1832, inspired Cole with ideas of exploring high-minded and grand themes. In landscape paintings he created on his return, he expressed the moral issues and lofty ideals that were usually the exclusive domain of history painters.

It was in New York, that Cole's fortunes changed. He spent the summer of 1825 walking and sketching the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. The resulting paintings, displayed in the window of a local shop, caught the notice of fellow artist John Trumbull. The paintings displayed included "The Falls Of Kaaterskill" (which Trumbull bought for $25) and "Lake With Dead Trees". Trumbull introduced him to Asher Durant and William Dunlap. Though it would be years before it was recognized, the Hudson River School of landscape painting had started.

Falls of Kaaterskill: 1826

Lake With Dead Trees: 1825

Each following summer, Cole returned to the Catskill Mountains, armed with his sketchbook, sometimes staying at the Catskill Mountain House. Although he did not particularly like the Mountain House - he preferred tramping through the wilderness and staying at small country inns - his visits served to increase the popularity of the fledgling hotel.

Kaaterskill Falls: 1826

The Clove Catskills: 1825

Landscape, Composition, St. John in the Wilderness: 1827

After his return to America, Cole settled in the town of Catskill, New York, but he remained active in the art scene of New York City, keeping ties with fellow artists and collectors. Among his acquaintances was the New York merchant, Luman Reed, who commissioned him to create The Course of Empire, (1836; New-York Historical Society), a five-canvas epic that depicts the cyclical development of a society from a savage wilderness to a grand and luxurious state, to a condition of corruption and destruction, and finally to dissolution. In the years that followed, Cole created both naturalistic views and imaginary scenes invested with moral or literary meaning. He rendered the two-canvas Gothic fantasy, The Departure and The Return (Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.) in 1837 and the four-canvas religious allegory, The Voyage of Life (two versions, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York; and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) in 1840. Other allegorical landscapes include Dream of Arcadia, (1838; Denver Art Museum) and The Architect's Dream, (1840; Toledo Museum of Art).

In 1829 he sailed to Europe, where he visited galleries and studied art in London, Paris, Florence, Rome and Naples, returning to America in 1832. Four years later, in 1836, Cole finished painting a series of 5 massive canvasses, The Course of the Empire. The paintings, depicting the stages of a great empire from creation to decay, were not well received by critics, with many saying he had lost his creative edge while in Europe. It could also be argued that it was, politically, not a popular idea that our new nation, full of the promise and idealism depicted in the first 3 paintings, would end up in ruins as in the last.

The Course of Empire: The Savage State (1834)

The Course of Empire: The Pastoral or Arcadian State (1834)

The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire (1835)

The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836)

The Course of Empire: Desolation (1836)

This elegiac pair of imaginary landscapes are among the most beautiful and moving of Thomas Cole's entire career. He had been intrigued with the concept of pendant paintings that explore before-and-after themes from early in his career (he completed his first such pair, 'The Garden of Eden' and 'Expulsion from the Garden of Eden' in 1828). Although he devoted much of his creative energy in the 1830's to a great, five-part cycle, The Course of Empire, which he completed in 1836, his interest in paired paintings was rekindled by a commission for two landscapes from William P. Van Rensselaer of Albany, New York, later that year. Other than specifying that the paintings depict morning and evening, Van Rensselaer left the details up to the artist, which, Cole noted, "is gratifying to me, and is a surety for my working con amore." Creating these paintings would indeed be for Cole a labor of love.

The Departure: 1837

The Return: 1837

Cole's renowned four-part series traces the journey of an archetypal hero along the "River of Life." Confidently assuming control of his destiny and oblivious to the dangers that await him, the voyager boldly strives to reach an aerial castle, emblematic of the daydreams of "Youth" and its aspirations for glory and fame. As the traveler approaches his goal, the ever-more-turbulent stream deviates from its course and relentlessly carries him toward the next picture in the series, where nature's fury, evil demons, and self-doubt will threaten his very existence. Only prayer, Cole suggests, can save the voyager from a dark and tragic fate.

From the innocence of childhood, to the flush of youthful overconfidence, through the trials and tribulations of middle age, to the hero's triumphant salvation, 'The Voyage of Life' seems intrinsically linked to the Christian doctrine of death and resurrection. Cole's intrepid voyager also may be read as a personification of America, itself at an adolescent stage of development. The artist may have been issuing a dire warning to those caught up in the feverish quest for Manifest Destiny: that unbridled westward expansion and industrialization would have tragic consequences for both man and nature.

The Voyage of Life: Childhood (1842)

The Voyage of Life: Youth (1842)

The Voyage of Life: Manhood (1842)

The Voyage of Life: Old Age (1842)

Dream of Arcadia: 1838

The Architect's Dream: 1840

Architectural monuments from the distant past dominate the Architect's Dream, presenting a continuum of the styles from which 19th-century architects took inspiration. In the misty distance, an Egyptian pyramid towers over an Egyptian temple. Two Greek temples are joined by a wall of pilasters (rectangular columns, attached rather than free-standing). Above this wall, a Roman aqueduct and a round Roman temple rest on the foundation of Greek architecture. In the foreground a Gothic church rises out of the forest.

The dreaming architect reclines on huge books of building designs atop a monumental column inscribed with the artist's name and the name of the patron; architect Ithiel Town (1784-1844). Town was instrumental in popularizing the Greek and Gothic Revival architectural styles in America.

Despite the esteem with which Cole's allegorical works were regarded, some patrons preferred his identifiably American scenes. Cole was disappointed at this preference, but over the course of his career, he had steadily improved his landscape technique as may be seen especially in the works he created following his return from his second European sojourn, which demonstrated the impact of his exposure to European sources. Cole's pure landscapes demonstrate many of the principles and intellectual ideas reflected in his allegorical works. He expressed a romantic viewpoint, finding symbolic meaning in nature. As he wrote: "A scene is rather an index to feelings and associations."

In addition to his activities as a painter, Cole was a prolific poet, writer, and theorist. He kept many journals and wrote poetry and essays, including his well known tract on American scenery of 1835. Although his only student was the painter Frederic Church, Cole had an influential role in the New York art community, and fostered the careers of many Hudson River School artists. He was especially close to Asher B. Durand. Cole's unexpected death in 1848 at the young age of forty-seven was deeply mourned in New York art and literary circles. Both his art and his legacy provided the foundation for the native landscape school that dominated American painting until the late 1860's.

A Rocky Glenn: 1846

A Tornado in the Wilderness: 1831

A View Near Tivoli (Morning): 1832

A Wild Scene: 1831-32

American Lake Scene: 1844

An Italian Autumn: 1844

Angels Ministering to Christ in the Wilderness: 1843

Aqueduct Near Rome: 1832

Arch of Nero: 1846

Autumn in the Catskills: 1827

Autumn Landscape (Mount Chocorua): ca 1827-28

Campagna di Roma (Study for Aqueduct near Rome): 1832

Catskill Landscape: 1846

Catskill Mountain House: The Four Elements (1843-44)

Catskill Scenery: ca 1833

Cross at Sunset: ca 1848

Expulsion Moon and Firelight: ca 1828

Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin
on the Great Osage Lake Kentucky: 1826

Evening in Arcady: 1843

Arcadia is a Modern Greek province dating back to antiquity. As a consequence of its sparsely inhabited mountainous topography it was occupied mainly by pastoralists. Subsequently it has become a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness filled with the bounties of nature and inhabited by shepherds (having more or less the same connotation as Utopia), and as a concept originated in Renaissance mythology. The inhabitants were often regarded as having continued to live after the manner of the Golden Age, without the pride and avarice that corrupted other regions. It is also sometimes referred to in English poetry as Arcady. The inhabitants of this region bear an obvious connection to the figure of the Noble savage, both being regarded as living close to nature, uncorrupted by civilization, and so virtuous.

The Garden of Eden: 1828

Thomas Cole first exhibited 'Expulsion from the Garden of Eden' along with his 'Garden of Eden' (Amon Carter Museum) in 1828 at the National Academy of Design, of which he had been a founding member. Writing to his patron Robert Gilmore, Cole noted that his submissions aimed for a higher form of landscape painting. Although the works failed to sell, Gilmore supported Cole's travels abroad and set him on his way to receiving a major commission from New York art patron Luman Reed to paint a series of five monumental canvases depicting the Course of Empire (1836, New-York Historical Society).

Immigrating to the United States from England at the age of eighteen, Cole was likely inspired by contemporary British art when he conceived his scene of the 'Expulsion'. He had relied upon British drawing books and prints for the rudiments of his artistic education, and his scene of Adam and Eve dwarfed by promontories of terrifying proportions recalls British painter and printmaker John Martin's illustrations for John Milton's Paradise Lost, which was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Cole's dramatic use of light streaming through the rocky portal to Paradise is clearly reminiscent of Martin's history paintings.

In his 1835 Essay on American Scenery, Cole would describe the beauties of the American wilderness and its capacity to reveal God's creation as a metaphoric Eden. He considered European scenery to reflect the ravages of civilization, for which extensive forests had been felled, rugged mountains, had been smoothed, and impetuous rivers had been turned from their courses. In contrast, Cole believed the American wilderness to embody a state of divine grace and lamented that the signs of progress were rapidly encroaching. In his Expulsion, Cole vividly portrays both Paradise and a hostile world replete with the consequences of earthly knowledge. These opposing realms meet near the center of the canvas. The profusion of flora and fauna evokes the beauty and harmony of 'Eden'. Outside the gate to Paradise, Adam and Eve are cast into an abyss marked by blasted trees, desolate rocks, and an ominous wolf.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden: 1828

Frenchman's Bay Mount Desert Island: 1844

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND is the largest island off the coast of Maine; separated from the mainland by Frenchman Bay, Mt. Desert Narrows, and Western Bay. The island's rugged topography is a result of glacial action. It is almost equally divided into east and west halves by Somes Sound. A chain of rounded granite peaks dominates the island, culminating in Cadillac Mt. The peaks were named Monts Deserts, meaning "Wilderness Mountains," by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who landed on the island in 1604. The first French Jesuit mission and colony in America was established there in 1613; the first permanent English settlement began in 1762. The island developed as a fishing and lumbering center, and by the end of the 19th century it had become a famous resort area. A forest fire in 1947 damaged much of the eastern half of the island. The main towns are Bar Harbor, whose downtown and coastline homes were spared by the fire; Southwest Harbor, which manufactures yachts; Northeast Harbor; and Bass Harbor, a fishing community. The major part of the island is in Acadia National Park.


(View near Ticonderoga): 1826-29

Genesee Scenery: 1847

Thomas Cole did not have any formal education in art, his aesthetic ideas derived from poetry and literature, influences that were strongly to mark his paintings. The many achievements that were his legacy provided a firm ground for the continued growth of the school of American Landscape.

Home in the Woods: 1847

The Hunter's Return: 1845

Il Penseroso: 1845

Il Penseroso is a pastoral poem by John Milton, written in 1631. Invoking "Divine Melancholy", the poem is in praise of the contemplative, withdrawn life of study, philosophy, thought and meditation, and is a counter piece to L'Allegro, which praises the more cheerful sides of life and literature. Both pieces detail the passing of a day in the countryside according to both philosophies. Because of Milton's later reputation as a fearsomely learned and dour poet, readers often detect a greater autobiographical element in Il Penseroso.

Il Penseroso
by John Milton

Hence, vain deluding joys,
The brood of folly without father bred,
How little you bestead,
Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys!
Dwell in some idle brain,
And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As thick and numberless
As the gay motes that people the sunbeams,
Or likest hovering dreams,
The fickle pensioners of Morpheus' train.
But hail thou Goddess sage and holy,
Hail divinest Melancholy,
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight,
And therefore to our weaker view
O'erlaid with black, staid Wisdom's hue;
Black, but such as in esteem
Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,
Or that starred Ethiop queen that strove
To set her beauty's praise above
The Sea-Nymphs, and their pow'rs offended.
Yet thou art higher far descended;
Thee bright-haired Vesta long of yore
To solitary Saturn bore;
His daughter she (in Saturn's reign
Such mixture was not held a stain).
Oft in glimmering bow'rs and glades
He met her, and in secret shades
Of woody Ida's inmost grove,
While yet there was no fear of Jove.
Come, pensive Nun, devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestic train,
And sable stole of cypres lawn,
Over thy decent shoulders drawn:
Come, but keep thy wonted state,
With even step, and musing gait,
And looks commercing with the skies,
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes:
There held in holy passion still,
Forget thyself to marble, till
With a sad leaden downward cast
Thou fix them on the earth as fast.
And join with thee calm Peace, and Quiet,
Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet,
And hears the Muses in a ring
Aye round about Jove's altar sing.
And add to these retired Leisure,
That in trim gardens takes his pleasure;
But first, and chiefest, with thee bring
Him that yon soars on golden wing,
Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
The Cherub Contemplation;
And the mute Silence hist along,
'Less Philomel will deign a song,
In her sweetest, saddest plight,
Smoothing the rugged brow of Night,
While Cynthia checks her dragon yoke,
Gently o'er th' accustomed oak;
Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy!
Thee, chauntress, oft the woods among
I woo, to hear thy even-song;
And missing thee, I walk unseen
On the dry smooth-shaven green,
To behold the wandering Moon
Riding near her highest noon,
Like one that had been led astray
Through the heav'n's wide pathless way;
And oft, as if her head she bowed,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
Oft on a plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off curfew sound,
Over some wide-watered shore,
Swinging slow with sullen roar;
Or if the air will not permit,
Some still removed place will fit,
Where glowing embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom;
Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the cricket on the hearth,
Or the bellman's drowsy charm,
To bless the doors from nightly harm:
Or let my lamp at midnight hour
Be seen in some high lonely tow'r,
Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,
With thrice-great Hermes, or unsphere
The spirit of Plato, to unfold
What worlds, or what vast regions hold
The immortal mind, that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook:
And of those Demons that are found
In fire, air, flood, or under ground,
Whose power hath a true consent
With planet, or with element.
Sometime let gorgeous Tragedy
In sceptered pall come sweeping by,
Presenting Thebes, or Pelops' line,
Or the tale of Troy divine,
Or what (though rare) of later age
Ennobled hath the buskined stage.
But, O sad Virgin, that thy power
Might raise Musaeus from his bower,
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
Such notes as warbled to the string
Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And made Hell grant what Love did seek.
Or call up him that left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold,
Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
And who had Canace to wife,
That owned the virtuous ring and glass,
And of the wondrous horse of brass
On which the Tartar king did ride;
And if aught else great bards beside
In sage and solemn tunes have sung,
Of turneys and of trophies hung,
Of forests, and enchantments drear,
Where more is meant than meets the ear.
Thus, Night, oft see me in thy pale career,
Till civil-suited Morn appear,
Not tricked and frounced as she was wont
With the Attic Boy to hunt,
But kerchiefed in a comely cloud,
While rocking winds are piping loud,
Or ushered with a shower still,
When the gust hath blown his fill,
Ending on the rustling leaves
With minute drops from off the eaves.
And when the sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me, Goddess, bring
To arched walks of twilight groves,
And shadows brown that Sylvan loves
Of pine, or monumental oak,
Where the rude axe with heaved stroke
Was never heard the Nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.
There in close covert by some brook,
Where no profaner eye may look,
Hide me from day's garish eye,
While the bee with honeyed thigh,
That at her flowery work doth sing,
And the waters murmuring
With such consort as they keep,
Entice the dewy-feathered Sleep;
And let some strange mysterious dream
Wave at his wings in airy stream
Of lively portraiture displayed,
Softly on my eyelids laid.
And as I wake, sweet music breathe
Above, about, or underneath,
Sent by some Spirit to mortals good,
Or the unseen Genius of the wood.
But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloister's pale,
And love the high embowed roof,
With antique pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light:
There let the pealing organ blow
To the full voiced choir below,
In service high, and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes.
And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage,
The hairy gown and mossy cell
Where I may sit and rightly spell
Of every star that heav'n doth show,
And every herb that sips the dew;
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain.
These pleasures, Melancholy, give,
And I with thee will choose to live.

Indian at Sunset: ca 1845-47

Indian Pass Tahawus: 1847

Indian Sacrifice: 1827

Interior of the Colosseum Rome: 1832

Italian Scene Composition: 1833

L'Allegro (Italian Sunset): 1845

Landscape: 1825

Landscape Composition Italian Scenery: 1831-32

Landscape the Seat of Mt Featherstonhaugh in the Distance: 1826

Moonlight: 1833-34

Morning Mist Rising Plymouth, New Hampshire
(A View in the United States of American in Autunm): ca 1830

Mount Chocorua New Hampshire: 1827

Mount Chocorua is one of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. At an elevation of 3,490 feet it is the easternmost peak of the Sandwich Range. The Sandwich Range extends east-west about 30 miles from Conway, New Hampshire on the Saco River to Campton on the Pemigewasset. Although the range is not outstanding for its elevation, it is very rugged and has excellent views of the surrounding lakes, mountains, and forests. Mount Chocorua is uniquely situated, and its bare summit can be seen from almost every direction. Many trails ascend the mountain, which is also the source of mystery and legend.

Mount Etna: 1842

Mount Etna is an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily, close to Messina and Catania. Its Arabic name was Jebel Utlamat (the Mountain of Fire). It is the largest active volcano in Europe, currently standing (10,924 ft) high, though it should be noted that this varies with summit eruptions; the mountain is (69 ft) lower now than it was in 1981. It is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Etna covers an area of (460 sq mi) with a basal circumference of 140 km. This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, being about two and a half times the height of the next largest, Mount Vesuvius.

Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of eruption. The fertile volcanic soils support extensive agriculture, with vineyards and orchards spread across the lower slopes of the mountain and the broad Plain of Catania to the south.

Mount Etna from Taormina: 1843

Mountain Sunrise Catskill: 1826

Niagara Falls: 1830

Niagara Falls is composed of two major sections separated by Goat Island: Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side of the border and American Falls on the United States side. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls also is located on the American side, separated from the main falls by Luna Island. Niagara Falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation (the last ice age), and water from the newly-formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment en route to the Atlantic Ocean. While not exceptionally high, Niagara Falls are very wide. More than six million cubic feet of water fall over the crest line every minute in high flow, and almost 4 million cubic feet on average. It is the most powerful waterfall in North America.

Niagara Falls are renowned both for their beauty and as a valuable source of hydroelectric power. Managing the balance between recreational, commercial, and industrial uses has been a challenge for the stewards of the falls since the 1800's.

Portage Falls on the Genesee: 1839

Prometheus Bound: 1846-47

Before coming to Vassar, Prometheus Bound was on display at Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole Historic Site in Catskill, which will also have the painting for part of each year, over the next five years. Cole took his inspiration for the 1847 canvas from the play by the same name written by Aeschylus. According to ancient mythology, the Greek Titan Prometheus used his god-like powers to give humans the gifts of life, creativity, and fire. However, he stole the fire from Zeus - and Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to Mount Caucasus, a high peak between the Black and Caspian Seas. Day after day, an eagle or vulture fed on Prometheus, whose defenseless body was bound to the rock.

Prometheus Bound was one of several large paintings Cole produced in the mid-1840's. He entered Prometheus Bound in a competition at Westminster Hall, London, for the selection of paintings to hang in the new British Houses of Parliament. It was not selected, however.


River in the Catskills: 1843

Roman Campagna: 1843

The Roman Campagna is a low-lying area surrounding Rome in the Lazio region of central Ital. Geographically, it is bordered by the Sabini mountains to the northeast, the Alban Hills to the southeast, on the southwest by the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Tolfa and Sabatini mountains to the northwest. The River Tiber runs through the area.

During the Ancient Roman period, it was a popular residential area, but it was abandoned during the Middle Ages due to malaria and insufficient water supplies for farming needs. The region was reclaimed in the 19th and 20th centuries for use in mixed farming and new settlements have been built. Starting with the fifties of last century, the expansion of Rome destroyed large parts of the Campagna, especially east and south of the city.

Romantic Landscape with Ruined Tower: 1832-36

Scene from Manfred: 1833

Manfred is a dramatic poem written in 1816-1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama. Manfred was adapted musically by Robert Schumann in 1852, in a composition entitled Manfred: Dramatic Poem with music in Three Parts, and later by Pyotr Tchaikovsky in his Manfred Symphony, Op. 58, as well as by Carl Reinecke. Friedrich Nietzsche was impressed by the poem's depiction of a super-human being, and wrote some music for it. It was also the inspiration for Thomas Cole's painting of the same time.

by Lord Byron

'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'

Schroon Lake: ca 1838-40

Schroon Mountain Adirondacks: 1838

As America in the 1800's searched for symbols of national identity, painters found patriotic expression in landscape: the vast, untamed nature that came to represent American spirit.

Thomas Cole first saw and sketched this view of the Adirondacks during a summer walking tour, but to dramatize the painting, he turned the scene into a blaze of autumn colors. He also elevated the vantage point to include a glimpse of the lake from which the mountain rises, thereby enhancing its height. The Native Americans hidden in the foliage prove that this is a wild, distinctly American land.

Celebrated in his day as the founder of the American landscape tradition, Cole here appears to have represented each of the four elements: earth (the massive, silhouette mountain), air (which sweeps clouds around the peak), water (the lake and the rain at right), and fire (in the blasted trunks and crimson leaves).

Sketch for Dream of Arcadia: 1838

Sketch for 'View from Mount Holyoke Northampton
Massachusetts after a Thunderstorm: 1836

Study for 'Dream of Arcadia': 1838

Summer Twilight

Sunny Morning on the Hudson River: ca 1827

"Sunny Morning" is very typical of Thomas Cole's wilderness paintings. As he has done here, he frequently positions the viewer on a high perch. Another very common Cole compositional element is also seen here: the foreground trees. He often isolated one or more, highlighting them against a dark background. Almost all of Cole's landscapes are done in the early morning. It was, for him, a time of newness and promise.

Sunrise in the Catskill Mountains: 1826

Sunset of the Arno: 1837

The Cascatelli Tivoli Looking Towards Rome: ca 1832

The Connecticut River near Northampton: 1846

The Cross and the World Study: ca 1846-47

The Cross and the World Study for
The Pilgrim of the Cross at the End of His Journey: ca 1846-48

The Cross and the World Study for
The Pilgrim of the World at the End of His Journey: ca 1846-47

The Cross and the World Study for
The Pilgrim of the World at the End of His Journey: ca 1846-47

The Mountain Ford: 1846

The Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch): 1839

Crawford Notch is the steep and narrow gorge of the Saco River in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, located almost entirely within the town of Hart's Location. Roughly half of that town is contained in Crawford Notch State Park.

The notch is at the upper or northern end of this gorge (constituting the extreme southern end of a panhandle at the southeastern corner of the town of Carroll), where the land descends both to north and south, and ascends both to east and west. However, the steepness of the south-flowing Saco's gorge (in contrast to the leisurely descent of the northward drainage into the watershed of Crawford Brook and eventually the Ammonoosuc River) makes it natural to attach the name to the gorge.

The Past: 1838

In this pair of paintings, Thomas Cole tells the story of one setting affected by the passage of time.

"The Past" depicts a courtly jousting contest on a summer day. From the colorful throng of spectators to the travelers on the distant road, the landscape teems with people. In contrast, the same scene in "The Present" contains only a lonely goatherd tending his flock. Now long abandoned, the castle lies in ivy-covered ruins, and water covers the fairground. Nature reclaims the land that humans overran in "The Past."

The father of the Hudson River School, Cole grew up in an industrial area in England and moved to America as a teenager. According to Sarah Burns, he feared democracy and believed in the cyclical rise and fall of empires. Perhaps these two paintings are an allegorical warning that even America cannot escape this pattern.

The Present: 1838

The Picnic: 1846

The Ruins of Taormina (sketch): 1842

The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge: 1829

Thomas Cole did many paintings which are considered very influential. Even some of his art that is not as popular within the art community has deep meaning and conveys just as important message as his other works. One such painting is 'The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge', 1829. The painting portrays the image of being deep inside of a cave allowing the person to see "the first rays of dawn" illuminate a rough and ragged landscape. There is evidence of a flood which has come and gone, a skull washed up on shore, the ark floating in the early beams of morning light, and a single dove in flight from the ark to the shore. The ark is surrounded by a purple glow signifying God's favor of cleansing the sins of the world.

These images reflect Cole's beliefs that America was a place in the world were life could begin again on a clean slate, previously uninvolved in the destructive ways of the old world. Cole stated that, "The subject of art should be pure and lofty, ... an impressive lesson must be taught, an important scene illustrated--amoral, religious or poetic effect (must) be produced on the mind."

The Temple of Segesta with the Artist Sketching: ca 1843

Segesta, ancient city of NW Sicily. Traditionally called a Trojan colony, it was the longstanding and bitter rival of Selinus. Athens undertook (415-413 BC) the disastrous expedition against Syracuse as an ally of Segesta in troubles growing out of a quarrel with Selinus. After this failure, Segesta got the help of Carthage, and Selinus was sacked (409). Thereafter Segesta was a Carthaginian dependency with some interruptions until the First Punic War, when it surrendered to the Romans. It declined in the 1st century BC amid its ruins is a fine Temple to Ceres.

The Titan's Goblet: 1833

A striking example of Cole's romantic fantasies, this painting echoes the artist's other works of the period in its Italianate scenery and its attempt to illustrate themes dealing with the grandeur of antiquity, the passage of time, and the reassertion of nature. Rejected by Cole's patron, Luman Reed, and subsequently owned by the artist John M. Falconer, 'The Titan's Goblet' defies full explanation. The massive goblet, trimmed with vegetation, around whose rim are found classical ruins, and on whose glassy surface boats sail, has been linked to both Norse legend and Greek mythology. Theophilus Stringfellow, Jr., described it as a self-contained, microcosmic human world in the midst of vast nature; Falconer linked the monumental stem of the goblet to the trunk of the Norse world-tree, likening it to "the ramifying branches … which spread out and hold between them an ocean dotted with sails, surrounded by dense forests and plains." Other theories tie the fantastic forms to J. M. W. Turner's Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (National Gallery, London), to Italian architecture and geological formations, or to the golden goblet of the sun god Helios. The loftiness of the cup, rimmed with classical remnants, suggests the temporary gulf between the present, embodied in the surrounding landscape, from the classical culture that continues to nourish with its cascading waters.

The Vale and Temple of Segesta Sicily: 1844

Tornado: 1835

Valley of the Vaucluse: 1841

View Across Frenchman's Bay from Mount Desert Island After a Squall: 1845

View in the White Mountains: 1827

View in the White Mountains: ca 1827

View of Boston

View of Florence from San Miniato: 1837

View of L Esperance on the Schoharie River: 1826-28

View of Monte Video Seat of Daniel Wadsworth Esq: 1828

View on the Catskill Early Autumn: 1837

View on the Schoharie: 1826

Source: Art Renewal Center

This page is the work of Senex Magister

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