Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
Cole is considered
by many the founders of Romantic landscape painting in America.
His family moved from England to the U.S in 1818, where
the 17 year-old Cole was trained in drawing and wood engraving.
He spent some years in Steubenville designing patterns and
probably also engraving woodblocks for his father's wallpaper
firm. He made his first landscape paintings after learning
the basis of oil painting from a itinerant portraitist called
Stein. In 1823 he joined the Philadelphia Academy of Art.
Later he co-founded the Hudson River School, the main school
of Romantic landscape painting in USA. In 1829 and in 1841-42
Cole traveled to England, Switzerland, Italy and studied
the landscape of Europe's best painters. In Europe, his
visits to the great galleries of London and Paris and, overall,
his travel in Italy from 1831 to 1832, fueled his imagination
with high-minded themes and ideas, and he developed a strong,
true Romantic spirit. The second trip to Europe, in 1841-42,
provided even greater advances in the mastery of his power:
his use of color showed more virtuosity and his shaping
of atmosphere, especially the sky, became more luminous.
When he came back, Cole revolutionized painting in America,
due to his new knowledge and philosophical experiences.
The innovations he presented to the new world include the
symbolic, moral landscape, as represented by the series
on the themes of The Course of Empire (1832; New
York, Historical Society) and The Voyage of Life
(1839/40; Utica, Munson William Proctor Institute), The
Course of Empire: The Savage State (1836), The Voyage
of Life: Childhood (1842). In these fantastic, symbolic
scenes Cole infused strange effects of grandiose space and
theatrical light contrasts. Cole also used antique and biblical
subjects, increasing fantastic and mystical feelings in
his paintings. His late pictures do not have the fine quality
of his earlier atmospheric landscapes, they are raw and
primitive, but they're able to stun spectators with extremely
strong surrealism. Though Cole's unexpected death after
a short illness sent a shock in New York and in art world,
that can only thank many achievements that he provided,
building a firm ground for the continued improvement of
the school of American landscape.
The Course of Empire:
The Savage State. 1836. Oil on canvas. The New York
Historical Society, NY, USA.
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. c.1827-1828. Oil
on canvas. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA.
View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts,
after a Thunderstorm (the Oxbow). 1836. Oil on canvas.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.
The Clove, Catskills. c.1827. Oil on canvas. New
Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut, USA.