Thomas Cole – The Father of American Landscape Painting

Nineteenth century American artist, Thomas Cole was born on February 1, 1801, at Bolton, Lancashire in Northwestern England. The founder of the American art movement ‘Hudson River School,’ Thomas is an established name in ‘Romanticism’ and ‘Naturalism.’

His early education in arts swung around the domains, wood engraving and calico painting, until his family immigrated to Steubenville, Ohio, America, in 1818. Here, Thomas learned the essentials of painting from a portrait painter, Stein. His interests however, gradually tilted towards landscape painting. In 1823, the Coles moved to Pittsburg, where Thomas began to draw painstakingly detailed sketches of the city’s highly picturesque scenery. The artist then shifted to Philadelphia in 1824, where he worked with the members of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This association brought him the privilege of displaying his canvasses at the Academy’s exhibitions.

In 1825, he moved to New York, back to his family. The city’s esteemed artists and patrons admiringly noticed his works. He sold his paintings to finance his summer trip to Hudson Valley. Here he explored the haunting beauty of Catskill Mountain house and its wilderness. One of his prominent works, “Gelyna, View near Ticonderoga” took him to the highs of fame everywhere, bringing eminence to his works. Soon, his stature elevated, and he was appointed a member of the National Academy.

During 1829-1831, he traveled to Britain, France, and Italy, to study the great historical works at various art galleries there. His stay in Italy, from 1831 to 1832, supplemented his imagination with noble themes and ideas, and from this point on, his paintings began carrying the hard-core ‘Romantic’ spirit. During this period only, Luman Reed, a New York based merchant, became Cole’s patron for whom the artist produced his best-known series of paintings, “The Course of Empire (1834-36),” depicting the progress of a society from the savage state to a zenith of luxury, eventually leading to its dissolution and extinction.

November 22, 1836, added a new chapter in Thomas’ life, when he tied knot with Maria Bartow at Cedar Grove, where he eventually settled for life. The couple had five children. During his second trip to Europe (1840-1842), Cole developed a mastery over his art of using colors. He would brilliantly recreate the atmospheric magic, particularly that of sky. He painted his second great series of work, “Voyage of Life (1840),” during his this second spell at Europe.

Although, Cole was a landscape painter, his allegoric creations embodied the same intellectual content. Some of his other celebrated works were, “The Garden of Eden (1828),” “The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton) (1836),” “The Departure (1837),” “The Return (1837),” “The Past (1838),” “The Present (1838),” “L’Allegro (Italian Sunset) (1845),” and “Il Penseroso (1845).” On February 11, 1848, the maestro breathed his last, at Catskill, leaving behind his rich legacy, and a firm foundation for the continued growth of the American landscape painting.


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