Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole (1801–1848) is often regarded as the founding figure, or “father” of the Hudson River School because of the enormous intellectual and artistic impact of his work. Cole was an inspirational force more than he was an organizer or leader. The beginnings of the school are traced back to Cole’s arrival in New York in 1825. Previously an itinerant portrait painter in Ohio and Pennsylvania, he studied and admired the paintings of early American specialists while in Philadelphia, notably the atmospheric landscapes of Thomas Doughty (1793–1856), and became determined to become a landscape painter. Upon arriving in New York, Cole sailed for the Catskills, making sketches along the banks of the Hudson River. The series of paintings that he produced from these sketches were spotted by several influential artists, which gained him instant celebrity. Cole left New York for a European Grand Tour from 1829 to 1832, and took a second European trip in 1839–40. His travels in England, Paris, the Alps, Rome, and finally Sicily, were to have a lasting impact on American painting.

Cole was noted for his careful studies of nature, attention to particularities of place and time, and his almost unprecedented injection of Sublime aesthetics into American landscape painting. Studying the Romantic landscape and history painting of J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) and John Martin (1789–1854), Cole’s dramatic subject matter and vigorous painting technique reflected the concept of fearsome natural forces which were at the heart of the theory of the Sublime as delineated in eighteenth-century British aesthetic theory.

Thomas Cole (1801–1848) On Catskill Creek, 1836
Oil on canvas, 20 5/8 x 15 11/16 inches
Signed, inscribed, and dated on backing panel: Thomas Cole Catskill 1836

Image courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC


Thomas Cole (1801–1848)
The Course of Empire: The Arcadian or Pastoral State, 1836
Oil on canvas, 39¼ x 63¼ inches
Collection New-York Historical Society, New York, NY, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1858.2