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Artists Thomas Cole
Thomas Cole Photo

Thomas Cole

British-American Painter

Movements and Styles: The Hudson River School, Romanticism, Naturalism, The Sublime in Art

Born: February 1, 1801 - Bolton-le-Moors, United Kingdom

Died: February 11, 1848 - Catskill, New York

Thomas Cole Timeline

"The painter of American scenery has, indeed, privileges superior to any other. All nature here is new to art."

Summary

The paintings of Thomas Cole, like the writings of his contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson, stand as monuments to the dreams and anxieties of the fledgling American nation during the mid-19th century; and they are also euphoric celebrations of its natural landscapes. Born in the industrial north-west of England, Cole moved to the United States as a young man, and from that point onwards sought to capture in paint the sublime beauty of the American wilderness. He is considered the first artist to bring the eye of a European Romantic landscape painter to those environments, but also a figure whose idealism and religious sensibilities expressed a uniquely American spirit. Indeed, despite his upbringing in Britain - or perhaps because that upbringing gave him a fresh perspective - his work continues to resonate as an exemplar of that spirit in the modern day.

Key Ideas

No one before Thomas Cole had applied the motifs and techniques of European Romantic landscape painting to the scenery of North America. In his works, we find the dramatic splendor of Caspar David Freidrich or J.M.W Turner transposed onto the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains. But whereas younger American painters such as Albert Bierstadt had come into direct contact with the The Düsseldorf School of painting, and thus with the tradition in which they placed themselves, Cole was largely self-tutored, representing something of the archetypal American figure of the auto-didact.
Thomas Cole is seen as the founding father of the Hudson River School, a group of American artists who sought to depict the untainted majesty of the American landscape, particularly that located around the Hudson River Valley in New York State. Cole was the first to explore this territory, taking steamboat trips up the valley from the mid-1820s onwards, and his work became a touchstone for a whole generation of American artists including Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Asher Brown Durand.
In many ways, Cole's art epitomizes all contradictions of European settler culture in America. He was in love with the sublime wildness of the American landscape, and sought to preserve it with his art, but his very presence in that landscape, and the development of his career, depended on the processes of urbanization and civilization which threatened it. From a modern perspective, Cole's Eurocentric gaze on seemingly empty wildernesses which had, in fact, been populated for centuries, also seems troubling; where Native Americans do appear in his work, as in Falls of the Kaaterskill (1826), it is as picturesque flecks rather than characterized participants in the scene.
Cole's paintings often serve as warnings about the destructive course of human civilization, offering portents of the devastation of the natural world, and the ceaseless spread of industry, which the American project seemed to represent. A deeply religious man, Cole saw these processes as transgressing God's will in some way, and various of his works imply that a moment of judgement or catastrophe might be imminent.
Thomas Cole Photo

Raised in Bolton-le-Moors, Thomas was the only boy amongst the eight children born to parents Mary and James Cole. His father was a woolen manufacturer who often moved the family around during Thomas's childhood, in search of better employment. This peripatetic lifestyle provided various opportunities for the young artist, including an apprenticeship in a printshop in Chorley at the age of fourteen, where he learned how to engrave designs for calico fabrics, and a period of work as an engraver in Liverpool during 1817. Cole developed a love of nature in his youth, and would often take walks with his sister Sarah to admire the landscapes of the north of England.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Thomas Cole
Interactive chart with Thomas Cole's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Claude LorrainClaude Lorrain
Gaspard Dughet
Salvator Rosa
J.M.W. TurnerJ.M.W. Turner
Thomas Lawrence

Personal Contacts

William Cullen Bryant
James Fenimore Cooper
William Gilpin
Henry Wadsworth LongfellowHenry Wadsworth Longfellow

Movements

European Landscape Painting
RomanticismRomanticism
NeoclassicismNeoclassicism
Dusseldorf schoolDusseldorf school

Influences on Artist
Thomas Cole
Thomas Cole
Years Worked: 1818 - 1848
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Albert BierstadtAlbert Bierstadt
Frederick Church
Jasper Cropsey
Asher B DurandAsher B Durand
George InnessGeorge Inness

Personal Contacts

William Cullen Bryant
William Gilpin
Robert Gilmor
Louis Legrand Noble

Movements

European Landscape Painting
The Hudson River SchoolThe Hudson River School
RealismRealism
RomanticismRomanticism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas
Available from:
First published on 03 May 2018. Updated and modified regularly.
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