Painter: Thomas Cole Essay

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Thomas Cole the English American landscape painter is best known for his canvass country landscape paintings. The world outdoors as it appeared to the painter. Nature was his favorite subject as can be seen from his works. Although he preferred to create landscape paintings of nature he also has a few allegorical works. All his paintings are romantic in vein, for Cole felt it his duty to depict nature, especially American nature. Not only did he depict nature, he was also concerned in awakening the peoples consciousness on conserving natural resources.


Landscape art was an American tradition before Coles time, but this early work was derivative from European models and did not express the energy or vision of the American people and their young republic. When he felt shackled by the demands of illustrating someone elses imagery, Cole abandoned his poetic sources and made paintings into something more purely his own. As he once wrote in his journal: I am now engaged in painting a Picture representing a Ruined & Solitary Tower that stands on a craggy promontory whose base is laved by a calm unruffled ocean¦I think it will be poetical, there is a stillness, a loneliness about it that may reach the Imagination. (Noble, 1964)

Coles aim was to raise the stature of landscape by portraying Americas wilderness and its association with God. His exhilarating pictures, including many of the Catskill regions, awoke a passion for landscape that would dominate 19th-century American painting (Seamon, 2000). Until his death he contributed to the American scenery by providing large body of works and continued to be remembered by painters and lovers of American art and to have an appreciation for nature for ourselves.

Cole felt deeply that the arts, including his paintings, essays, and poetry, could awaken Americans to the sacredness of their natural landscape and perhaps temper thoughtless environmental actions. In this sense, Cole was a forerunner of the modern conservation movement, suggesting that a cultivation of respect for nature would lead to more responsible economic and social progress (Seamon, 2000).


Thomas Cole was not only an artist but was called Father of the Hudson River School of Art and founder of the National Academy of Design. He is best known for his romantic landscape paintings which depict nature in an almost photographic fashion. In his Essay on American Scenery Cole praises the value of landscape itself, extolling the spirituality inherent in the beauty of scenery. Nature was inseparable from religion, according to Cole (Delafield, 2002). Cole had a great love for nature and accused modern society of losing sense of what really matters; most of his works celebrates nature and its objective of the world.

The people that appear in his paintings are summoned to nature and in his painting  Cole did not only depict nature in his landscape paintings , more importantly he told stories about nature and man in his allegorical works such as The Voyage of Life and the The Course of Empire. The Course of Empire exhibits the rise and fall of a civilization. The last painting in this series has been described as an image of trees and plants springing up around the ruins of the fallen empirenature reclaiming the landscape (Delafield, 2002). As can be seen, he depicted the fall of man (civilization) and the eventual re-emergence of the dominance of nature.

This series tells how much Cole revered nature and how he tried to warn the world about the doom that abuse of nature would eventually bring. In another allegorical work The Voyage of Life, Cole was able to once again depict man and nature. Its seemingly simple theme life cycle shows how much man and nature are alike. How they both traverse the paths of childhood, youth and old-age. In this series of painting he captured life in the The Voyage of Life: Youth, it was a virtuous representation of the feeling of being alive, having life, energy and passion.

His most popular cycle of paintings, partly because people of all backgrounds easily understood his images was Coles last painting Home in the Woods which specifies a change in his attitude toward nature. In this painting he depicted human beings at ease with a nature which on its part was rapidly becoming domesticated.

The Old Mill at Sunset is one of Thomas Coles most lyrically beautiful landscapes and a highly important example of his late style. The world depicted in The Old Mill at Sunset is Coles ideal for America, where settled community and pristine wilderness coexist harmoniously under the careful watch and guidance of Divine Providence. The working mill, bucolic landscape and children all are symbolic markers that reflect Coles high hopes for America.


Artists make choices on creating their meaningful works; they use appropriate forms, and styles to communicate ideas to the audience for different purposes. An artists position is to reflect the beliefs, feelings, and ideals; to allow the individual audience to experience the time, place, or personality of his subject; to allow appreciation of their own culture and to look at multiplicities through objects or in humanities. Art can influence ones own personal life to understand the world whether it is past or present.

Art is a teacher that presents issues, ideas, and persuades us to look at two sides of the story. Meaning observation skills comes into perspective to enhance the observer universal themes and documented historical events. Not many of us see things for ourselves. We are blind and come to see things that others have seen first and have pointed out to us. The world is full of the undiscovered, and him who makes new meanings, interpretations, feeling, known to us, we call genius artist (Wharton, 2002).

Cole aimed to acquire an almost photographic naturalism. Cole produced an original kind of aesthetic experience and admiration for Americans that no other artist at the time could colleague. He was further assured than ever that his aesthetic obligation was both to enchant the eye and also to enlighten the mind.

Artist share a gift to humankind that there is an appreciation to life as Cole who was trying to convey to society that there is an appreciation to nature and to the whole world. He conveyed his hopes for the world through his paintings. He painted what he wanted the people to see and understand. In his painting the The Old Mill at Sunset he depicted his high hopes for his country. In his allegorical work The Course of Empire he was able to show the path that the world is going to take should progress without conscious conservation continue.


Bourne Gallery Online. Sorrell RWS. NEAC; Richard (2007) [Online]

Delafield, Christy. Thomas Cole Biography (2002) [Online]

McCloskey, J. Leigh (2006) [Online]

Noble, Louis Legrand. The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, ed. Elliot S. Vesell (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), 195-196

Seamon, David Ph.D. Thomas Cole and Cedar Grove (2000) [Online]

Wharton, Dale. What Makes Lives: Sources of Ideas, Feelings (2002) [Online]

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