Romantic Landscape ("Last of the Mohicans")

Object Number: 
Oil on paper
Overall: 8 1/8 x 11 1/8 in. (20.6 x 28.3 cm)
Bad board, presumably part of old mount, inscribed in brown watercolor: "Painted by / Thomas Cole N.A / abt 1827 A.D"
Gallery Label: 
Thomas Cole painted this oil sketch as a preparatory work for his painting Last of the Mohicans: The Death of Cora of 1827 (University of Pennsylvania). He had recently come to the attention of the prominent New York artists Asher B. Durand and John Trumbull, and the critic William Dunlap, and was enjoying acclaim as a newly discovered genius of American landscape painting. Between 1826 and 1828 Cole combined his affinity for the Hudson River Valley and the nearby Catskills with his keen interest in literary and allegorical subjects, creating at least five scenes from James Fenimore Cooper's popular novel The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826 (in addition to the University of Pennsylvania painting, others are held by the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the New York State Historical Association, and the Chrysler Museum). It was the most popular of Cooper's series of novels called the Leatherstocking Tales, which relate the adventures of frontiersman Natty Bumpo in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Cole and Cooper would have been acquainted through, among other things, their membership in the Bread and Cheese Club, a salon of New York artists and writers. Cooper was a great admirer of Cole, calling him "one of the very first geniuses of the age." The Historical Society's oil sketch closely resembles the University of Pennsylvania's version of the scene that depicts Cora facing her death at the hand of Tamenud, the Delaware Indian chief. Cora raises her hands in a prayer for deliverance as Uncas appears on the ledge at the left to rescue her. Cole rendered the N-YHS oil sketch in shades of brown, indicating that he was experimenting with the picture's composition before he added color. His debt to the English picturesque tradition is apparent in the trees and rock outcroppings that frame the scene, the panoramic landscape in the distance, and the stormy sky that echoes the human drama below. In the finished painting Cole enhanced the tension of the scene by minimizing the stand of trees to the left and focusing on the ominous dead tree that looms over Uncas, while enlarging and moving the figure group with Tamenud and Cora to the center.
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. 187. Powell, Earl A., Thomas Cole. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, p. 22.
Credit Line: 
Gift of an Anonymous Donor
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group