Prinseps


The Course of the Empire Series

One of the United State’s first landscape artists, Thomas Cole, can be considered as the father of the Hudson River School. Cole romanticized the wilderness of upstate New York. To him, wilderness and nature were meant to admired and respected. It was never meant to be controlled, tamed and made civilized.

This can be seen in Cole’s view of the United States in his group of paintings called “The Course of the Empire” which show five stages of landscapes that detail the fall and rise of a civilisation. Cole gave america its first signature style of painting

Thomas Cole - The Savage State

Thomas Cole

The Course of the Empire: The Savage State

Oil on canvas

1834

Thomas Cole - The Pastoral State

Thomas Cole

The Course of the Empire: The Pastoral State

Oil on canvas

1834

Consummation of Empire Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole

The Course of the Empire: Consummation of Empire

Oil on canvas

1836

 Thomas Cole Destruction 1836

Thomas Cole

The Course of the Empire: Destruction

Oil on canvas

1836

 Thomas Cole - DesolutionThomas Cole

The Course of the Empire: Desolution

Oil on canvas

1836

In 1825, Cole took trips to the Hudson Valley in New York state to paint the wilderness of the Catskill and the Adirondack mountains. There he found evidence of the country’s waterfalls, forests and other scenery. Most of the pasture is based on what he saw there with a little inspiration from his home across the Atlantic ocean as well. Since Cole was born in England, he was exposed to other parts of Europe as well. As a result, he was exposed to western classics and renaissance painting traditions in Italy. This can be seen through the ruins in the “The Consummation of the Empire” and “Destruction” paintings. Cole was extremely against the urban expansion by President Andrew Jackson and hence, painted his predictions for America as well as the world in general.

Cole painted real landscapes of the Hudson Valley in minute detail and could mimic the dramatic imagery using effects of light and chiaroscuro. He often painted human figures but they were always hidden amongst the vast landscape. This was his way of conveying that nature was more powerful than man. He painted man and how the affects of his own greed caused the wilderness to fall into ruin once again with nature taking over towards the end. Thus, indicating that nature can reincarnate itself even after being tamed for long periods of time.

Looking at Cole’s paintings from the perspective of a person living in 2019, we can see that increase in population and rapid urbanization has affected the condition of the earth. Today, environmental regulations are at an all time high and Cole’s point is still relevant. Industrial development and the amount of consumption in recent times also remind us of the need to reverse our actions on the natural world.