Welcome to the first installment of my long-promised new regular feature, American Art of the Week. I’ve had a strong interest in American art, particularly paintings, for a long time, and this feature will be an opportunity for me to learn more about the topic and showcase some of my favorite American paintings. Every Wednesday, I will feature a painting and talk a little about the artist, style, or movement.
Romanticist and landscape painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was born in England but came to success in New York in the 1820s. One of the earliest important American painters, Cole was a founder of the so-called Hudson River School, a group of nineteenth-century artists who painted the then-wild and undeveloped American landscape. Over a period of decades, the Hudson River School, named for the area of New York that many artists painted, would include many of the most prominent names in nineteenth-century American art.
Cole painted many beautiful images of the Northeastern United States as well as romantic European landscapes, featuring classical or Gothic ruins. He was a big fan of the sublime, a concept popular in British and European romantic landscape painting, which concerned the evocative potential of dramatic and frightening elements such as storms and treacherous terrain. Cole was the first to paint the American landscape in this style. (1)
Many of his works have symbolic or allegorical elements to them, most notably the Course of the Empire series. This painting, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, is among Cole’s best-known works. It is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A stunning and dramatic depiction of a New England landscape, the painting includes numerous allegorical and even political sentiments concerning the development of both the young nation and its lands (2).
The Hudson River School had a huge influence on the development of American art, and it is widely considered to be the first uniquely-American art movement. Therefore, you can expect to see many more Hudson River School paintings featured in American Art of the Week. If you can’t wait until then, I would highly recommend visiting The New-York Historical Society or reading the society’s book, The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision by Linda S. Ferber (New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2009).
(1) Avery, Kevin J. “The Hudson River School”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)
(2) Davies, Penelope J.E. et al. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition Volume II (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2007. p.836-7.