Thomas Cole (1801-1848)

Object Number: 
ca. 1836
Oil on canvas
Overall: 22 x 18 in. ( 55.9 x 45.7 cm ) frame: 29 x 25 x 3 in. ( 73.7 x 63.5 x 7.6 cm )
Gallery Label: 
Thomas Cole, hailed as the founder of the Hudson River School, is best known as a landscape painter, but he also executed a handful of portraits. This work, his only known self portrait, was probably a personal exercise and not meant for public exhibition; though the head and the eyes show a degree of finish, other areas are sketchy, including the large, looping brushstrokes in the background and the dabs of different colored paint at lower left. Cole placed himself off-center, gazing directly at the viewer with a thoughtful expression. The artist's distant gaze has been called Byronic, and indeed, Cole admired the English poet and had drawn from his epic Childe Harold's Pilgrimage for the five-painting series The Course of Empire (1858.1-5) that had consumed him during the mid 1830s. The year 1836 was a momentous one for the artist: he suffered the loss of friend and patron Luman Reed, who had commissioned The Course of Empire; he married Maria Bartow and permanently moved his main residence from New York City to her family home in Catskill; and he completed his long dreamed-of cycle and exhibited it to great acclaim. This painting may represent Cole's reflections on his new life at the age of 35 as a married man living in the country, without the financial assurance of his beloved patron, but contemplating his recent success as he worked to solidify his reputation as a painter not only of landscapes, but also of epic allegories.
An Exhibition of Paintings by Thomas Cole N.A. from the Artist's Studio, Catskill, New York, November through December 1964, New York: Kennedy Galleries, Inc. Powell, Earl A., Thomas Cole. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, p. 199. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, p. 155. McDaniel, Amy Ellis, "Works on Paper by Thomas Cole in the Detroit Institute of Arts," Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts (Ann Arbor, MI), Volume 80, Number ½, 2006, pp. 16-25.
Credit Line: 
Purchase, The Watson Fund
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group