The Thomas Cole Biography

Thomas Cole Biography

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Thomas Cole (1801 -1844)

Thomas Cole was an American painter, one of the founders of Romantic landscape painting in the New World. He was born into an Anglo-American family in England in 1801. The family returned to the United States in 1818; until then young Thomas had received training in drawing and wood engraving. In the USA, he entered the Philadelphia Academy of Art in 1823.

Later he settled in the Catskills on the Hudson and became a co-founder of the so-called
Hudson River School, which established Romantic landscape painting in America. Direct, spontaneous landscapes painted in the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains brought rapid recognition and attracted New York buyers: The Clove, Catskills (c.1827).

In 1829 and 1841-1842 Cole traveled to Europe, he visited England, Switzerland and Italy, studying in particular the landscapes of European masters. On his return, having also absorbed philosophical and literary ideas, Cole introduced a new type of painting to America: the symbolic, moral landscape, as represented by the series on the themes of The Course of Empire (1832; New York, Historical Society) and The Voyage of Life (1839/40; Utica, Munson William Proctor Institute): The Course of Empire: The Savage State (1836), The Voyage of Life: Childhood (1842). These are fantastic, symbolic scenes full of unusual effects of grandiose space and theatrical contrasts of light. Not satisfied with great American nature any longer, Cole increases fantastic and mystical character by introducing Biblical and antique subjects. His late pictures do not attain the fine quality of his earlier atmospheric landscapes, they are rough and primitive, but are supposed to stun spectators with extremely pretentious surrealism.

Cole's unexpected death in 1848 at the young age of forty-seven was deeply mourned in New York art and literary circles. Both his art and his legacy provided the foundation for the native landscape school that dominated American painting until the late 1860s.

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