Thomas Cole

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Thomas Cole
Daguerreotype of Cole by an unknown photographer, c. 1845, published within the Archives of American Art Journal
Born(1801-02-01)February 1, 1801
DiedFebruary 11, 1848(1848-02-11) (aged 47)
Known forPainting, oil on canvas
Notable workThe Titan's Goblet
The Course of Empire
The Oxbow
The Voyage of Life
among others...
MovementHudson River School
The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton) (1836)
The Course of Empire (1833–1836), this animated image shows all five paintings in the series as separate frames

Thomas Cole (1 February 1801 – 11 February 1848) was an English-born American artist and the founder of the Hudson River School art movement.[1][2] Cole is widely regarded as the first significant American landscape painter. He was known for his romantic landscape and history paintings. Influenced by European painters, but with a strong American sensibility,[3] he was prolific throughout his career and worked primarily with oil on canvas. His paintings are typically allegoric and often depict small figures or structures set against moody and evocative natural landscapes. They are usually escapist, framing the New World as a natural eden contrasting with the smog-filled cityscapes of Industrial Revolution-era Britain, in which he grew up.[4][5] His works, often seen as conservative, criticize the contemporary trends of industrialism, urbanism, and westward expansion.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Bolton le Moors, Lancashire, in 1801,[6] Cole immigrated with his family to the United States in 1818, settling in Steubenville, Ohio. At the age of 22, he moved to Philadelphia and later, in 1825, to Catskill, New York, where he lived with his wife and children until his death in 1848.[7]

Cole found work early on as an engraver. He was largely self-taught as a painter, relying on books and by studying the work of other artists. In 1822, he started working as a portrait painter and later on, gradually shifted his focus to landscape.[8]


The Titan's Goblet (1833), Oil on canvas; 49 × 41 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In New York, Cole sold three paintings to George W. Bruen,[9] who subsequently financed a summer trip to the Hudson Valley where the artist produced landscapes featuring the Catskill Mountain House, the famous Kaaterskill Falls, the ruins of Fort Putnam, and two views of Cold Spring.[10][11] Returning to New York, he displayed five landscapes in the window of William Colman's bookstore; according to the New York Evening Post the two views of Cold Spring were purchased by A. Seton, who lent them to the American Academy of the Fine Arts annual exhibition in 1826. This garnered Cole the attention of John Trumbull, Asher B. Durand, and William Dunlap. Among the paintings was a landscape called View of Fort Ticonderoga from Gelyna. 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[6] 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, which depict the same landscape over generations—from a near state of nature to consummation of empire, and then decline and desolation—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, the 1840 original at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York and the 1842 replicas with minor alterations at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Among Cole's other famous works are The Oxbow (1836), The Notch of the White Mountains, Daniel Boone at his cabin at the Great Osage Lake, and Lake with Dead Trees (1825) which is at the Allen Memorial Art Museum.[12] He also painted The Garden of Eden (1828), with lavish detail of Adam and Eve living amid waterfalls, vivid plants, and deer.[13] In 2014, friezes painted by Cole on the walls of his home, which had been decorated over, were discovered.[14]

Cole influenced his peers in the art movement later termed the Hudson River School, especially Asher B. Durand and Frederic Edwin Church. Church studied with Cole from 1844 to 1846, where he learned Cole's technique of sketching from nature and later developing an idealized, finished composition; Cole's influence is particularly notable in Church's early paintings.[15] Cole spent the years 1829 to 1832 and 1841 to 1842 abroad, mainly in England and Italy.[6]

Other work[edit]

Cole is best known for his work as an American landscape artist. In an 1836[16] article on "American Scenery",[17] he described his complex relationship with the American landscape in esthetic, emotional, and spiritual terms. He also produced thousands of sketches of varying subject matter. Over 2,500 of these sketches can be seen at The Detroit Institute of Arts.,

In 1842, Cole embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe in an effort to study in the style of the Old Masters and to paint its scenery. Most striking to Cole was Europe's tallest active volcano, Mount Etna. Cole was so moved by the volcano's beauty that he produced several sketches and at least six paintings of it.[18] The most famous of these works is A View of Mount Etna from Taormina which is a 78-by-120-inch (1,980 by 3,050 mm) oil on canvas. Cole also produced a highly detailed sketch View of Mount Etna which shows a panoramic view of the volcano with the crumbling walls of the ancient Greek theater of Taormina on the far right.

Cole was also a poet and dabbled in architecture, a not uncommon practice at the time when the profession was not so codified. Cole was an entrant in the design competition held in 1838 to create the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. His entry won third place, and many contend that the finished building, a composite of the first, second, and third-place entries, bears a great similarity to Cole's entry.[19]

Personal life[edit]

After 1827 Cole 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 owners, and became a year-round resident. Thomas and Maria had five children.[a] Cole's daughter Emily was a botanical artist who worked in watercolor and painted porcelain.[20] Cole's sister, Sarah Cole, was also a landscape painter.

Additionally, Cole held many friendships with important figures in the art world including Daniel Wadsworth, with whom he shared a close friendship. Proof of this friendship can be seen in the letters that were unearthed in the 1980s by the Trinity College Watkinson Library. Cole emotionally wrote Wadsworth in July 1832: "Years have passed away since I saw you & time & the world have undoubtedly wrought many changes in both of us; but the recollection of your friendship... [has] never faded in my mind & I look at those pleasures as 'flowers that never will in other garden grow-'"[21] Thomas Cole died at Catskill on February 11, 1848, of pleurisy.[22] The fourth highest peak in the Catskills is named Thomas Cole Mountain in his honor.[23] Cedar Grove, also known as the Thomas Cole House, was declared a National Historic Site in 1999 and is now open to the public.[24]

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ They were: Theodore Alexander Cole, born January 1, 1838; Mary Bartow Cole, born September 23, 1839; Emily Cole, born August 27, 1843; Elizabeth Cole, born April 5, 1847 (died in infancy); Thomas Cole Jr., born September 16, 1848. ("A Guide to the Thomas Cole Collection" (PDF). Albany Institute of History and Art. p. 9. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 20, 2008. Retrieved January 6, 2009.)


  1. ^ "Thomas Cole". National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on August 9, 2020. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  2. ^ Genocchio, Benjamin (June 18, 2006). "In an Untamed Wilderness, Finding the Serene". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 15, 2018. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Cotter, Holland (March 15, 2018). "Thomas Cole, American Moralist". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 24, 2020. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  4. ^ Kornhauser, Elizabeth (January 8, 2018). "Re-examining Thomas Cole". The Magazine Antiques. Archived from the original on May 8, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  5. ^ Parry III, Ellwood C. (Summer 1985). "Thomas Cole's "The Hunter's Return"". The American Art Journal. 17 (3): 2–17. doi:10.2307/1594431. JSTOR 1594431. Archived from the original on December 5, 2020. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  7. ^ Tour brochure, Thomas Cole House, Catskill NY.Truettner, William H.; Wallach, Alan (1994). Thomas Cole Landscape into History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 8.
  8. ^ Truettner, William H. (1994). Thomas Cole: Landscape into History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 25–26.
  9. ^ Noble, Louis Legrand (1856). The life and works of Thomas Cole. New York: Sheldon, Blakeman. p. 56.
  10. ^ Effmann, Elise (November 2004). "Thomas Cole's View of Fort Putnam" (PDF). The Magazine Antiques: 154–159. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
  11. ^ "COLE T25FP". Hamilton Auction Galleries. Archived from the original on November 27, 2020.
  12. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (2009). "Property and Progress: Antebellum Landscape Art and Property Law" (PDF). McGeorge Law Review. 40: 605–59. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  13. ^ Exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas
  14. ^ Schweber, Nate (July 1, 2015). "Unknown Thomas Cole Paintings Found at His Home". The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  15. ^ Howat, John K. (2005). Frederic Church. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 9–12. ISBN 978-0300109887.
  16. ^ "American Scenery--Thomas Cole vs NASA".
  17. ^ Cole, Thomas (January 1836). "American Scenery". The American Monthly Magazine. 1 (1): 1–12.
  18. ^ "Studies on Thomas Cole" Baltimore Museum of Art, Annual II. pp. 123. Baltimore, Maryland 1967.
  19. ^ Weidman, Jeffrey; Library, Oberlin College (2000). Artists in Ohio, 1787–1900: A Biographical Dictionary. Kent State University Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-87338-616-6.
  20. ^ "The Art of Emily Cole". Thomas Cole National Historic Site. February 19, 2019. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  21. ^ Cole, T., & Wadsworth, D. (1983). The correspondence of Thomas Cole and Daniel Wadsworth: Letters in the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, and in the New York State Library, Albany, New York. Hartford, Conn.: Connecticut Historical Society.
  22. ^ "Biography of Thomas Cole". Thomas Cole National Historic Site. March 18, 2016.
  23. ^ "Cedar Grove History". Archived from the original on January 6, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  24. ^ "History of Cedar Grove". The Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2007.

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]

External videos
video icon Cole's Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Smarthistory
video icon Cole's The Oxbow, Smarthistory