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Thomas Cole

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Thomas Cole Essay, Research Paper

Landscape painting was an extremely important time during the middle of the

nineteenth century. One of the leading practitioners of landscape painters in

America was Thomas Cole. He went to many places seeking the natural world in

which he used direct observation to show his audience the untainted nature by

man. His works helped 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 bringing satisfaction among the people

who were trying to find ?the truth? (realism) through the works of others.

Thomas Cole was born on February 1, 1801 in Bolton, Lancashire, England. Due to

financial problems experienced by his family, at the age of fourteen Cole found

work as a textile printer and wood engraver in Philadelphia. In 1819, Cole

returned to Ohio where his parents resided. Here Cole learned the oil painting

techniques of a portrait painter named Stein. 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 where he had come from. Art

came to Cole naturally, he taught himself, and one day set out to observe nature

and the 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. He is 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 was known for the being the

founder of the National Academy of Design. During this time many people wanted

Cole to paint pictures of American scenery for them, but his main goal, he says,

was to create a ?higher style of landscape that could express moral or

religious meanings.? Cole continued to paint and in 1836 he married Maria

Barstow and settled in Catskill, New York. Catskill was the place where he

sketched a portrait of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. From these

paintings he influenced a lot of other artists such as Frederick Edwin Church

along with Albert Bierstadt. Cole died on February 11, 1848 due to an illness

and was remembered by many whom he helped to see the true vision of America.

Thomas Cole led the first American school of Landscape, called the Hudson River

School. This school included many leading artist such as Asher Brown Durand,

Thomas Doughty, as well as the second generation of artists such as Frederick

Edwin Church, Sanford Gifford, and Albert Bierstadt. These painters shared a

common background. 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. These realists combined detailed

panoramic images with moralistic insights, which they obtained from famous works

of literature of Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Bryant. They saw the landscape

as having a feeling of hopefulness, divinity, and harmony. This school was an

important part of the American culture. 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 does this by painting vistas that mix both idealism and realism. He

impressed several of his colleagues teaching them that a landscape painter must

have strength, determination, and should be willing to conquer the hazards of

the weather and terrain in order to achieve success. In 1825, an artist named

John Trumball discovered Cole?s work in the window of a frame shop. Trumball

purchased many of Cole?s paintings and this was brought to the attention of

many critics who loved Cole?s style. The success of the Hudson River School

led to the formation of the National Academy of Design. In the beginning of the

1800?s, artists such as Thomas Cole painted pictures of the East and closer to

the Hudson Valley. By the 1850?s artists began to travel further into the west

and distant places such as the South American Tropical environments to capture a

more spectacular American wilderness. The result of Cole?s first sketch on

this trip up the Hudson River inspired a new generation of artists to follow his

direction. ?The Course of the Empire,? painted by Thomas Cole, was one of

his 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. These canvases portray

the relationship between man and nature. Cole believed that human empires and

civilizations were not permanent. Throughout history, empires have risen and

fallen. He is trying to say that man can dominate and create a civilization, but

he will soon return to destruction and failure. In this scenery, Cole painted

each picture in the same location, but used different seasons, time, and weather

conditions to come up with an appropriate mood for each of his paintings. The

message Cole gives out for this painting is that nature has the supreme control,

and no matter what man does, his actions cannot stop anything. In his first

canvas, ?The Savage State,? a bay with grassy green land is seen on the near

side. On the far side there is smoke rising from the colony of teepees and a

noticeable mountain. The atmosphere of the painting seems dark and untamed.

Broken trees, thick underbrush, and a hunter trying to kill a deer can be seen

in the foreground. From a far distance one can see the fire and gathering of the

savages. The hunters are perceived as wild because they are running near a

stream with their weapons, such as bows and spears and are ready to attack for

food. 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 section, called ?The Pastoral

State,? the area is the same, but the perspective of the painting has slightly

changed. Unlike the first stage with its broken trees, this stage is tamed and

ordered. There are beautiful green grass fields in the scene, which may show

that men have tamed the area in order to suit themselves. This painting shows

several people being busy in their daily lives and some even relaxing. For

example, shepherds can be seen as well as thinkers, imperial soldiers, and women

working on chores at the stream with their children. The animals are being used

for agriculture work and some are grazing. More houses and different sorts of

building styles can be seen compared to the first stage painting. In this

painting, the mood appears to be calm and pleasant just like the way the people

are enjoying themselves. Overall, this image represents a state in which man has

changed nature to suit himself by taming the ones that are barbaric and being

more civilized about the essential quality of nature. The third portion of this

painting is ?The Consummation of Empire.? There are great advances in this

painting than the first two. Roads and other structures have been built. The

water is calm, there are a few clouds, and two columns can be seen marking the

entrance to the bay. A lot more people are present in this setting than the

previous stages. There are crowds of people seen walking on luxurious walkways,

boats, and the buildings. The environment in this painting shows human beings as

being prosperous and abundant. They have dominated nature by changing the

natural world to fit them. The fourth part of the series is ?Destruction.?

In this scene, warriors are attacking the community and nothing can be seen but

massacres and destruction. Fighting is going on everywhere while the dead and

the dying lay around the walkways and near the buildings. The columns that were

seen in the third stage by the bay have been broken and so have some of the

houses. The sea is not calm and the clouds appear smoky and thick. The main

purpose of this canvas is to indicate that human empires do not last, and at

some point they may face destruction. The final part of this painting is

?Desolation.? Unlike all the other paintings, this one takes place at night.

The night is calm with the glistening moon reflecting in the bay and a few

clouds strung out in the night sky. No humans are present in this setting, but

by viewing the painting one can see evidence of human existence. Broken pillars

and ruined structures line the coast while they are being overgrown by mosses

and plants. The area is quite wild due to the awkward growing of plants

everything. The mountain still stands in its place, but alone without any human

presence. The sea shines with peacefulness. On the far side two deer can been

perceived drinking water. The point of this portrait is to let the viewer know

that nature has reclaimed the land. The deer have returned and so have the

plants and trees, but the people have not. The marks of the human beings have

become part of the natural world. Cole had many views about nature, human life

and mortality. He felt that the nation had a wild beauty. Cole said in one of

his articles, ?To walk with nature as a poet is the necessary condition of a

perfect artist.? He illustrated the American landscape with a new vision, but

at the same time he did not forget to paint pictures that portray allegorical

and religious subjects. He believed that as men live and die so do plants and

animals. Cole used eroded mountains and dried up rivers to symbolize the cycles

of nature as being compared with humans. What he meant by this was that man dies

as he ages and nature also looses its agility. Sometimes Cole?s art works

represent that as the early settlement of America is passing by, a new one is

taking its place. This America that he portrays is competitive, abundant with

resources, and there is also a society ranked by class. Cole enjoyed painting

nature and he used nature in comparison to life. Another one of Cole?s finest

achievements would be ?The Oxbow.? Completed in 1836, the sketches for this

painting were completed at a real place, the Connecticut River Valley. On the

left is the wilderness of the mountain. Dead trees and living trees symbolize

the cycle of nature. From a distance one can see the peaceful bend in the river,

a golden light coming from the left, a storm spotted from far, and some trees

blasted out on the near side. This picture is painted as if the audience is

taken into the moment. In the center of the painting, the artist is sitting and

painting the scene with his painting kit. The artist cannot be seen at a first

glimpse because he is extremely tiny in the picture. He gives the audience a

look at the future possibilities if they looked into the distance. The fading

storm shows that the wild will eventually be replaced by the civilized. This

scenery is beautifully shown with its bright colors and amazing developed

features. Thomas Cole did an excellent job in portraying realism in his

paintings. He helped America vision a society with possibilities, opportunities,

and abundance of resources. Not only did Cole inspire the nation; he also

influenced many artists who are now heading Cole?s way. Cole was a brilliant

man of great intelligence who stole the hearts of many. In an article written by

William Church Bryant, he says, ?We might dream in his funeral oration on

Cole, that the conscious valleys miss his accustomed visits and that autumnal

glories of the woods are paler because of his departure.?

4dd

Harvey, Eleanor Jones. The Painted Sketch: American Impressions From Nature

1830-1880. Dallas: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998. Lucie-Smith, Edward. American

Realism. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994. Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History.

Rev. ed. Vol. 2. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995. 973-974. Yaeger, Bert D.

The Hudson River School: American Landscape Artists. New York: Smithmark

Publishers, 1996.

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