Thomas Cole 1801-1848
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Thomas Cole was born in Lancashire, England on February 1, 1801. He enjoyed enormous success in his own lifetime for his works that celebrated the American landscape. He helped to elevate the genre through his often romanticised portrayals of the Hudson River Valley, and its surrounding areas, for example The Oxbow of 1836. He was a pioneer in the genre of American landscape, and is considered today to be one of the founders of the Hudson River School movement. His only pupil was a young Frederic Edwin Church, who went on to become one of the most revered American landscape painters of the 19th century.

Perhaps what is most astonishing about Cole’s success is that he received very little formal art training. During Cole’s early years in England, he was the apprentice to an engraver. However at age eighteen he immigrated with his family to the United States. In 1823 he attended an exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which featured landscape artists Thomas Doughty and Thomas Birch, sparking a lifelong love for landscape painting. In 1825 Cole moved to New York, and made the first of many summer sketching trips up the Hudson River. Upon his return, a shopkeeper put up several of his sketches and paintings in his window. While on display John Trumbull, Asher B. Durand and William Dunlap saw his works, purchased one, and from there his career took off. In 1829 he helped to found the National Academy of Design in New York City along with close friend Asher B. Durand, in addition to several other American artists. After seeing great Renaissance works during a visit in Italy in 1831, Cole became inspired to explore more “high-minded” themes in art. Upon his return he gained the commission of well-known art patron, Luman Reed, to create his famous, five-part series, The Course of Empire, 1833-1836. The series takes the viewer on a journey through man’s interaction with the environment. It begins with an undisturbed, pristine landscape, and through each of the five canvases it shows the interaction between man and Mother Nature. The series ultimately ends with the portrayal of the demise of man, and Mother Nature reclaiming the landscape. In 1836 Cole permanently settled in the village of Catskill, New York, and on February 11, 1848 he suddenly and unexpectedly died of pneumonia. His death was mourned in art and literary circles alike.