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Thomas Cole

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Landscape painting was extremely important during the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the leading practitioners of landscape painters in America was Thomas Cole. He visited many places seeking the "natural" world to which he might utilize his direct observations to convey the untainted nature by man to his audience. His works resolved to find goodness in American land and to help Americans take pride in their unique geological features created by God. Thomas Cole inspired many with his brilliant works by offering satisfaction to those seeking the "truth" (realism) through the works of others.

Thomas Cole was born on February 1, 1801 in Bolton, Lancashire, England. Due to financial problems his family endured, Cole, at the ripe old age of just fourteen, had to find work to assist with the family needs. He entered the work force as a textile printer and wood engraver in Philadelphia. In 1819, Cole returned to Ohio where his parents resided. Here, a portrait painter by the name of Stein, would become Cole's primary teaching vehicle and inspiration for his oil techniques we've come to be familiar with. During this time, Cole was extremely impressed by what he saw in the landscapes of the New World and how different they were from the small town of England from whence he hailed. Self taught, art came naturally to Cole.

One day Cole set out to observe nature and it's wilderness. He began painting pictures by first making oil sketches of American rocks, trees, sunsets, plants, animals, as well as distant Indians. From these sketches he formed several paintings. Most famous for his allegorical collection called the "The Course of Empire" and is well-known for his Landscape paintings, "The Oxbow," "The Woodchopper," and "The Clove, Catskills."

In January of 1826, Cole had become to be known for founding the National Academy of Design. During this time, many would commission

him to paint pictures of American scenery, but his primary desire and goal, he says, was to create a "higher style of landscape that would express moral or religious tones." In 1836, Cole married Maria Barstow and settled in Catskill, New York. Catskill would obviously become the inspiration for his piece, "Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River". From these paintings he influenced many other artists. Among these artists were Frederick Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt.

Thomas Cole led the first American school of Landscape, called the Hudson River School. The success of the Hudson River School led to the formation of the National Academy of Design. The Hudson River School became an important part of the American culture and would come to introduce many leading artist such as Asher Brown Durand and Thomas Doughty, as well as the second generation of artists such as Frederick Edwin Church, Sanford Gifford, and Albert Bierstadt. These artists shared a common background. Most notably, they were Romantic Realists who found great wonders in the countryside of the New World. They searched the Hudson Valley and areas of New England to find unique images of America. With the influence of famous works of literature from those such as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Bryant, these "realists" combined detailed panoramic images with moralistic insights. They perceived the landscape as having a feeling of hopefulness, divinity, and harmony.

Many neighboring countries had crushed America during the time of war and peace. Since that time, Americans yearned to see their nation survive. In his paintings, Cole seems to focus on an ideal America. He demonstrated this by painting vistas that combined both idealism and realism. He impressed several of his colleagues by demonstrating a painter of landscape that possessed strength and determination. And more notably, an artist willing to conquer the hazards of weather and terrain in an attempt to achieve success.

In the beginning of the 1800's, artists such as Thomas Cole painted pictures of the East, specifically the Hudson Valley. The result of Cole's first sketch on the Hudson River, "The Course of the Empire", inspired a new generation of artists to follow his direction. By the 1850's, other artists followed suit and began to travel further into the west as well as distant places such as the South American Tropics, in a bid to capture a more spectacular American wilderness. "The Course of the Empire" was one of Cole's famous allegorical works that dealt with the stages of an empire. This painting is separated into five stages: The Savage State, The Pastoral State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction, and Desolation, effectively portraying the relationship between man and nature.

Cole believed that human empires and civilizations were not permanent. Throughout history, empires have risen and fallen. His agenda was to convey that man can dominate and create a civilization, but that his civilization will eventually turn to destruction and failure. In "The Course of the Empire", Cole portrayed each picture from the same vantage point, but depicted different seasons, time, and weather conditions to inhibit a different mood. The message Cole demands with each piece is that nature ultimately has the supreme control and that man, regardless of his futile pursuit, cannot change that.

In his first canvas, "The Savage State," a bay with grassy green land can be seen on the near side. On the far side, however, one can find smoke rising from the colony of teepees with a noticeable mountain rising in the distance. The atmosphere of the painting seems dark and untamed. Broken trees, thick underbrush, and a hunter trying to kill a deer is depicted in the foreground. From a far distance, one can see a fire and the gathering of savages. By featuring the hunters running near a stream with weapons in hand, such as bows and spears, they will be perceived as "wild" and "barbaric". The dark gray clouds in this painting hover about the mountain, while the water remains to show its roughness by crashing against the shore. This work of art represents the "Primitive" state of the natural world in the presence of man. Thomas Cole writes in his prose description of this stage, "The Empire is asserted, although to a limited degree, over sea, land, and the animal kingdom" (qtd. in Parry156).

In his second canvas, "The Pastoral State," the area is relatively the same, but the perspective of the painting has slightly changed. Unlike the first stage with its broken trees, this stage is tamed and shows order. There are beautiful green grass



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