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The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire

Classification: 
Is owned by NYHS: 
Yes
Date: 
1835-1836
Medium: 
Oil on canvas (relined)
Dimensions: 
Overall: 51 1/4 x 76 in. ( 130.2 x 193 cm ) Framed: 65 in. × 7 ft. 5 1/4 in. × 5 3/4 in. (165.1 × 226.7 × 14.6 cm)
Description: 

Thomas Cole. The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire, 1836. Oil on canvas, 51 1/4 x 76 in. New-York Historical Society, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts.

Credit Line: 
Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts
Object Number: 
1858.3
Marks: 
signed, dated mid right: 'T. Cole / 1836'
Gallery Label: 

In the late 1820s the young Thomas Cole quickly built a successful career as a painter of Hudson River landscapes, but he harbored ambitions of turning the landscape form to a larger purpose. As early as 1827 he conceived a cycle of paintings that would illustrate the rise and fall of a civilization, and a few years later he began sketching and developing his ideas. The artist attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Robert Gilmor, a Baltimore patron, to commission the series, and in 1833 he secured a commission from New York merchant Luman Reed to paint a cycle of five paintings for the art gallery in his home. In the resulting series, The Course of Empire, Cole presented a cyclical view of history in which a civilization appears, matures, and collapses. The artist's distinctly pessimistic vision differed from that of many of his peers; in the early years of the United States' history, its future was considered limitless. Cole drew from a number of literary sources, such as Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Byron's epic Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The motto he attached to the series was taken from Byron's popular poem: "First freedom, then glory; when that fails, wealth, vice, corruption." The artist finally settled on a title in 1835, taken from Bishop George Berkeley's 1729 poem, "Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America," which begins "Westward the Course of Empire takes its way." Cole also drew upon paintings he had seen on his recent trip to Europe (1829-32), including the work of J.M.W. Turner and Claude Lorrain. The five paintings follow a dramatic narrative arc, anchored by the imperturbable mountain in the background, and expounded with rich and complex symbolic systems that illustrate this imaginary world's history, including the course of the sun across the sky, the changing relation of man to nature, the role of animals, the arts, and the military, and even the placement and character of his own signature. Luman Reed, Cole's generous patron, did not live to see the completion of the series. He died in June of 1836, but Reed's family encouraged Cole to complete the work. The series was exhibited to great acclaim in New York later that year. The Course of Empire, along with the rest of Reed's collection, became the core of the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts. That group of works was donated to the New-York Historical Society in 1858, forming the foundation of its acclaimed collection of American landscape painting. Cole intended this third painting as the visual climax of the series, choosing a slightly larger canvas and taking considerable time and pains with the composition. He planned to depict "a great city girding the bay…splendid processions, &c.-all that can be combined to show the fullness of prosperity…" The carefully orchestrated abundance of architectural features relies on Dido Building Carthage, a painting by the English artist J.M.W. Turner that Cole had seen in London. Cole also turned to publications of antiquities. In Cole's initial conception for the series he called this stage "Luxury," referring to the precarious moment in his Byronic motto when "glory" declines into "wealth, vice," and "corruption." His elaborate and overbuilt city is a visually stunning creation, but Cole meant the scene as a warning, rather than an apotheosis. This painting was the most difficult for Cole to execute, and after several months he declared that he was "tired of the gaud and glitter" of the scene. At this stage the city gives itself over to the militaristic rule of an emperor-like figure, who is being carried across the foreground bridge in great state under the glare of mid-day. All the arts of man have been pressed into the service of glorifying the ruler. Even nature itself has been tamed to serve him, in the form of the elephant that tows his chariot and the domesticated flowers and potted plants that decorate his domain. Looming over the scene like a mute observer is a statue of Minerva, with a winged victory figure in her hand. The goddess of wisdom, she is ignored. Some scholars theorize that the red-cloaked conqueror is a metaphor for President Andrew Jackson, and suggest that Cole intended the cycle as a cautionary message about his administration, which some considered dangerously autocratic. Cole's signature is in keeping with the elaborate care he lavished on the picture; it appears in neat letters on an architectural element at the right center edge.

Provenance: 

Luman Reed, d. 1836; Mrs. Luman Reed, New York, 1836-44; New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1844-58.

Bibliography: 

Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XII, No. 23, December 6, 1834, p. 179. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIII, April 2, 1836, p. 318. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 17, October 22, 1836, p. 135. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 18, October 29, 1836, p. 142. Clark, Lewis Gaylord, ed. The Knickerbocker, Vol. VIII, No. 5, November, 1836, pp. 81, 630. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 19, November 4, 1836, p. 150. "Amusements," New York Commercial Advertiser, Vol. XXXIX, Friday, November 4, 1836, n.p. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 20, November 12, 1836, p. 158. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 27, December 31, 1836, p. 215. Poe, Edgar Allen, ed., "The New York Gallery of the Fine Arts," The Broadway Journal, I, February 15,1845, pp. 102-103. Bryant, William Cullen, Funeral Oration, occasioned by the Death of Thomas Cole, Delivered Before the National Academy of Design, New-York, May 4, 1848, New York, D. Appleton & Company, pp. 23-4, 26. Exhibition of the Paintings of the late Thomas Cole, at the Gallery of the American Art-Union, 1848, pp. 19-20. Noble, Louis Legrand, The Course of Empire, Voyage of life, and Other Pictures of Thomas Cole, N. A., With Selections from his Letters and Miscellaneous Writings: Illustrative of his Life, Character, and Genius, New York: Cornish, Lamport & Company, 1853, n.p. Stillman, W. J. & Durand, J. Eds., "The Artists of America," The Crayon, Vol. VII, No. 2, February 1860, pp. 45-6. Hone, Philip, The Diary of Philip Hone 1828-1851, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1889, p. 236. Durand, John, The Life and Times of Asher B. Durand, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894; Reprint, Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press, 2007), p. 124. Caffin, Charles H., The Story of American Painting: The Evolution of Painting in America from Colonial Times to the Present, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1907, pp. 66, 69-70. Mather, Frank Jewett, Morey, Charles Rufus, and Henderson, William James, The Pageant of America: The American Spirit in Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927, p. 43. Isham, Samuel, The History of American Painting, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936, pp. 225-6. Sweet, Frederick A. "Asher B. Durand, Pioneer, American Landscape Painter," The Art Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring, 1945, pp. 141, 153. Howe, Winifred E., A History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a Chapter on the Early Institutions of Art in New York. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1946, pp. 62-7 Thomas Cole: One Hundred Years Later, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT 1948, pp. 10-1. Tunnard, Christopher, "Reflections on the Course of Empire and other Architectural Fantasies of Thomas Cole, N.A.," The Architectural Review, Vol. 104, December 1948, pp. 291-294. Davidson, Marshall, "Whither the Course of Empire?" American Heritage, October 1957, pp. 52-5, 58-61, 104. Flexner, James Thomas, That Wilder Image: The Painting of America's Native School from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962, pp. 49-58, 108, 354. McCoubrey, John, American Tradition in Painting, New York: G. Braziller, 1963, p. 65. Exhibition at Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1964, pp. 14, 26-7. Noble, Louis Legrand, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, Hensonville, New York: Black Dome Press, 1964, pp. 103, 112, 129-131, 149-50, 155, 157-9, 164-74, 264, 268, 287. Wallach, Alan P., "The Origins of Thomas Cole's 'Course of Empire,'" M.A. Thesis, Columbia University, 1965. Lawall, David B., Asher Brown Durand: His Art and Art Theory in Relation to His Times, PhD Dissertation, Princeton, 1966, pp. 170-92, 288-9. Callow, James T., Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855, Durham, North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, 1967, p. 157. Annual II: Studies on Thomas Cole, An American Romanticist, Baltimore, Maryland: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1967, pp. 72-4. Wallach, Alan P., "Cole, Byron, and the Course of Empire," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 50, No. 4, December 1968, pp. 375-9. Dunlap, William, A History of the Rise and Progress of The Arts of Design in the United States, A Reprint of the Original 1834 Edition with a New Introduction by James Thomas Flexner, Vol. 2, Part 2, New York: Dover Publications, 1969, p. 366. Baur, John I. H., The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge 1820-1910, New York: Arno Press, 1969, pp. 40-1. Parry, Elwood, Thomas Cole's "The Course of Empire:" A Study in Serial Imagery, PhD Dissertation, Yale, 1970, pp. 254-60. Glassie, Henry H., "Thomas Cole and Niagara Falls," The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. LVIII, No. 2, April 1974, p. 89. Novak, Barbara, "The Double-Edged Axe," Art in America, Vol. 64, No. 1, Jan.-Feb. 1976, pp. 44-50. New York State Museum, New York: The State of Art, Albany, New York: The New York State Museum, 1977, pp. 25, 30-1, and exhibition catalog, Mann, Maybelle, The American Art-Union, Jupiter FL: ALM Associates, c. 1977, pp. 15-7. Davidson, Abraham A., The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978, pp. 16-9, 138. Lynes, Russell, "Luman Reed: A New York Patron," Apollo, Vol. 107, No. 192, 1978, pp. 124-9. Cikovsky Jr., Nicolai, "'The Ravages of the Axe:" The Meaning of the Tree Stump in Nineteenth-Century American Art," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 61, No. 4, Dec., 1979, pp. 611-26. Craven, Wayne, "Luman Reed, patron: His Collection and Gallery," The American Art Journal, Vol. XII,, Spring 1980, pp. 43, 45, 50-6. Parry III, Ellwood C., "Thomas Cole's Ideas for Mr. Reed's Doors," The American Art Journal, Vol. XII,, Summer 1980, pp. 33-45. Baigell, Matthew, Thomas Cole, New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1981, pp. 16-9, 49-50, 52, 82. Treuttner, William H., "The Art of History: American Exploration and Discovery Scenes, 1840-1860," The American Art Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 1, Winter 1982, pp. 4-31. Kasson, Joy S., Artistic Voyagers: Europe and the American Imagination in the Works of Irving, Allston, Cole, Cooper and Hawthorne, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982, 84-90, 111-129. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 192-200. Tammenga, Michael J., The Beautiful, the Sublime, and The Picturesque: British Influences on American Landscape Painting, St. Louis Missouri: Washington University, 1984, p. 57. Maddox, Kenneth W., "Thomas Cole and the Railroad: Gentle Maledictions," Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1986, pp. 2-10. Kelly, Franklin, and Carr, Gerald L., The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845-1854, Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1987, p. 66. Menefee, Ellen Avitts, The Early Biblical Landscapes of Thomas Cole (1825-1829), Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI, 1987, p. 40, 80, 145. Miller, Angela, "Thomas Cole and Jacksonian America: The Course of Empire as Political Allegory," Prospects, Vol. 14, 1989, pp. 65-92. Powell, Earl A., Thomas Cole. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 62-71, 184. Foshay, Ella M., Luman Reed's Picture Gallery: Pioneer Collection of American Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 59-61, 130-40, 207-8. Platt, Susan, "Paradigms and Paradoxes: Nature, Morality, and Art in America," Art Journal, Vol. 51, No. 2, Summer 1992, pp. 82-88. Bryant II, William Cullen, Highlands Sketches: The Hudson River in the Eye of the Beholder, Mount Taurus Press, Nelsonville, New York: 1993, p. 13. Bailey, Brigitte, "The Protected Witness: Cole, Cooper, and the Tourist's View of the Italian Landscape," American Iconology: New Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993, pp. 92, 110. Daniels, Stephen, Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993, pp. 158-161. Robinson, Christine T., Guest Curator, Thomas Cole: Drawn to Nature, Albany, NY: Albany Institute of History & Art, 1993, pp. 34, 49-50, 52. Griffin, Randall C., "The Untrammeled Vision: Thomas Cole and the Dream of the Artist," Art Journal, Vol. 52, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 71. Nutty, Carolyn Sue Himelick, Joseph Harrison, Jr. (1810-1874): Philadelphia Art Collector, Vol. I, dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of Delaware in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Art History, Fall 1993, pp. 47-8. Caldwell, John and Roque, Oswaldo Rodriguez, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. I, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born by 1815, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, pp. 459-61. Wallach, Alan, "Museums and Resistance to History," The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 21, 1994, pp. B3-5. Cooper, James F., Knights of the Brush: The Hudson River School and the Moral Landscape, New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1999, pp. 31, 45-8, 77, 80. Koja, Stephan, Ed. AMERICA: The New World in 19th-Century Painting, Munich: New York: Prestel, 1999, pp. 25-7, 215, 235. Goldfarb, Hilliard T., Hirschler, Erica E., Lears, T. J. Jackson, Sargeant: The Late Landscapes, Boston: University Press of New England, 1999, pp. 8-9. New-York Historical Society, Perspectives on the Collections of the New-York Historical Society, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 2000, p. 28-30. Georgi, Karen L., "Asher B. Durand's American Landscapes and the Nature of Representation," PhD Dissertation, Boston University, 2000, pp. 115-7. Bedell, Rebecca, The Anatomy of Nature: Geology & American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 26, 29, 33, 36, 38-41, 45. Wilton, Andrew & Barringer, Tim, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880, London: Tate, 2002, pp. 23-4, 46, 51-3, 87, 95-109. Belli, Gabriella, Giacomoni, Paola, Cavino, Anna Ottani, curators, Montagna: Arte, scienza, Mito da Durer a Warhol, Milano: Skira, 2003, pp. 189-201. Simon, Janice, "Impressed in Memory: John Frederick Kensett's Italian Scene," Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth Century American Painting and the Italian Encounter, Athens, Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 51-69. Payne, Christine, and Vaughn, William, eds., English Accents: Interactions with British Art c. 1776-1853, Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004, pp. 10, 246. Burgard, Timothy Anglin, Ed., "Thomas Cole, Prometheus Bound," Masterworks of American Painting at the De Young, San Francisco: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2005, pp. 70-3, 483-4. Ramirez, Jan Seidler, "A History of the New-York Historical Society," The Magazine Antiques, January 2005, pp. 140-1. Vedder, Lee A., "Nineteenth-century American paintings," The Magazine Antiques, January, 2005, pp. 148-9. De Salvo, Donna and Norden, Linda, "Course of Empire: Waste and Retrieval," Course of Empire, Exhibition Publication for the United States Pavilion at the 51st International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, June 12-November 6, 2005, n.p. McDaniel, Amy Ellis, "Works on Paper by Thomas Cole in the Detroit Institute of Arts," Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. 80, No. ½, 2006, pp. 16-25. Keck, Michaela, Walking in the Wilderness: The Peripatetic Tradition in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Painting, Heidelberg: Winter, 2006, pp. 71-3, 75, 77. Novak, Barbara, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 47-8, 51, 54. Kornhauser, Elizabeth M., "The Hudson River School: Landscape Art in America, 1820-1870," America: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo", Italy: Linea d'Ombra Libri, 2007, p. 28. Hirshler, Erica Eve, "Nineteenth Century American Painters in Italy's 'Great University of Art,'" America: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo", Italy: Linea d'Ombra Libri, 2007, p. 75 Ramirez, Jan Seidler. "A History of the New-York Historical Society." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 138-145. Vedder, Lee A. "Nineteenth-century American paintings." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 146-155. Bland, Bartholomew F. and Vookles, Laura L. The Panoramic River: The Hudson and the Thames. Yonkers: Hudson River Museum, 2013.

Date End: 
1836
eMuseum Object ID: 
54911
Sort order: 
2
Exclude from TMS update: 
OFF
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

The Course of Empire: The Savage State

Classification: 
Is owned by NYHS: 
Yes
Date: 
ca. 1834
Medium: 
Oil on canvas (relined)
Dimensions: 
Overall: 39 1/4 x 63 1/4 in. ( 99.7 x 160.7 cm ) Framed: 53 in. × 6 ft. 4 1/2 in. × 5 3/4 in. (134.6 × 194.3 × 14.
Description: 

Thomas Cole. The Course of Empire: The Savage State, 1834. Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 63 1/4 in. New-York Historical Society, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts.

Credit Line: 
Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts
Object Number: 
1858.1
Marks: 
signed lower right: 'T. Cole'
Gallery Label: 

In the late 1820s the young Thomas Cole quickly built a successful career as a painter of Hudson River landscapes, but he harbored ambitions of turning the landscape form to a larger purpose. As early as 1827 he conceived a cycle of paintings that would illustrate the rise and fall of a civilization, and a few years later he began sketching and developing his ideas. The artist attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Robert Gilmor, a Baltimore patron, to commission the series, and in 1833 he secured a commission from New York merchant Luman Reed to paint a cycle of five paintings for the art gallery in his home. In the resulting series, The Course of Empire, Cole presented a cyclical view of history in which a civilization appears, matures, and collapses. The artist's distinctly pessimistic vision differed from that of many of his peers; in the early years of the United States' history, its future was considered limitless. Cole drew from a number of literary sources, such as Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Byron's epic Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The motto he attached to the series was taken from Byron's popular poem: "First freedom, then glory; when that fails, wealth, vice, corruption." The artist finally settled on a title in 1835, taken from Bishop George Berkeley's 1729 poem, "Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America," which begins "Westward the Course of Empire takes its way." Cole also drew upon paintings he had seen on his recent trip to Europe (1829-32), including the work of J.M.W. Turner and Claude Lorrain. The five paintings follow a dramatic narrative arc, anchored by the imperturbable mountain in the background, and expounded with rich and complex symbolic systems that illustrate this imaginary world's history, including the course of the sun across the sky, the changing relation of man to nature, the role of animals, the arts, and the military, and even the placement and character of his own signature. Luman Reed, Cole's generous patron, did not live to see the completion of the series. He died in June of 1836, but Reed's family encouraged Cole to complete the work. The series was exhibited to great acclaim in New York later that year. The Course of Empire, along with the rest of Reed's collection, became the core of the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts. That group of works was donated to the New-York Historical Society in 1858, forming the foundation of its acclaimed collection of American landscape painting. Cole executed the series of paintings in their narrative order beginning with this work, which he had completed by 1834. In a letter to Luman Reed, Cole envisioned that this first canvas, "representing the savage state, must be a view of a wilderness." The untamed terrain recalls the work of the Baroque painter Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) and is the foundation for this interpretation of the dawn of civilization. The Savage State is derived from A Wild Scene (Baltimore Museum of Art), which Cole painted in 1831-32 for his patron Robert Gilmor in an attempt to persuade him to commission the entire cycle. The two works share turbulent skies, a mighty, looming mountain, and aboriginal figures hunting for their daily meal. Several elements in The Savage State commence the symbolic systems that trace the arc of civilization. The sun rises over the water, signaling a new day. Cole himself identified the season as springtime and pointed out his depiction of the rudiments of society, with men banding together for the hunt; as well as the beginnings of the arts in the making of canoes and huts, and "in the singing which usually accompanies the dance of savages," seen at the far right. Cole signed the painting at the bottom right, incising "T. Cole" on a rock.

Provenance: 

Luman Reed, d. 1836; Mrs. Luman Reed, New York, 1836-44; New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1844-58.

Bibliography: 

Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XII, No. 23, December 6, 1834, p. 179. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIII, April 2, 1836, p. 318. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 17, October 22, 1836, p. 135. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 18, October 29, 1836, p. 142. Clark, Lewis Gaylord, ed. The Knickerbocker, Vol. VIII, No. 5, November, 1836, pp. 81, 630. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 19, November 4, 1836, p. 150. "Amusements," New York Commercial Advertiser, Vol. XXXIX, Friday, November 4, 1836, n.p. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 20, November 12, 1836, p. 158. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 27, December 31, 1836, p. 215. Poe, Edgar Allen, ed., "The New York Gallery of the Fine Arts," The Broadway Journal, I, February 15,1845, pp. 102-103. "Our Pigeon-Holes," Aristidean: A Magazine of Reviews, Politics and Light Literature, March 1845, p. 79. Bryant, William Cullen, Funeral Oration, occasioned by the Death of Thomas Cole, Delivered Before the National Academy of Design, New-York, May 4, 1848, New York, D. Appleton & Company, pp. 23-4, 26. Exhibition of the Paintings of the late Thomas Cole, at the Gallery of the American Art-Union, 1848, pp. 19-20. Noble, Louis Legrand, The Course of Empire, Voyage of life, and Other Pictures of Thomas Cole, N. A., With Selections from his Letters and Miscellaneous Writings: Illustrative of his Life, Character, and Genius, New York: Cornish, Lamport & Company, 1853, n.p. Stillman, W. J. & Durand, J. Eds., "The Artists of America," The Crayon, Vol. VII, No. 2, February 1860, pp. 45-6. Hone, Philip, The Diary of Philip Hone 1828-1851, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1889, p. 236. Durand, John, The Life and Times of Asher B. Durand, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894; Reprint, Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press, 2007), p. 124. Caffin, Charles H., The Story of American Painting: The Evolution of Painting in America from Colonial Times to the Present, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1907, pp. 66, 69-70. Mather, Frank Jewett, Morey, Charles Rufus, and Henderson, William James, The Pageant of America: The American Spirit in Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927, p. 43. Isham, Samuel, The History of American Painting, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936, pp. 225-6. Sweet, Frederick A. "Asher B. Durand, Pioneer, American Landscape Painter," The Art Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring, 1945, pp. 141, 153. Howe, Winifred E., A History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a Chapter on the Early Institutions of Art in New York. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1946, pp. 62-7 Thomas Cole: One Hundred Years Later, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT 1948, pp. 10-1. Tunnard, Christopher, "Reflections on the Course of Empire and other Architectural Fantasies of Thomas Cole, N.A.," The Architectural Review, Vol. 104, December 1948, pp. 291-294. Davidson, Marshall, "Whither the Course of Empire?" American Heritage, October 1957, pp. 52-5, 58-61, 104. Flexner, James Thomas, That Wilder Image: The Painting of America's Native School from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962, pp. 49-58, 108, 354. McCoubrey, John, American Tradition in Painting, New York: G. Braziller, 1963, p. 65. Exhibition at Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1964, pp. 14, 26-7. Noble, Louis Legrand, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, Hensonville, New York: Black Dome Press, 1964, pp. 103, 112, 129-131, 149-50, 155, 157-9, 164-74, 264, 268, 287. Wallach, Alan P., "The Origins of Thomas Cole's 'Course of Empire,'" M.A. Thesis, Columbia University, 1965. Lawall, David B., Asher Brown Durand: His Art and Art Theory in Relation to His Times, PhD Dissertation, Princeton, 1966, pp. 170-92, 288-9. Callow, James T., Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855, Durham, North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, 1967, p. 157. Annual II: Studies on Thomas Cole, An American Romanticist, Baltimore, Maryland: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1967, pp. 72-4. Wallach, Alan P., "Cole, Byron, and the Course of Empire," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 50, No. 4, December 1968, pp. 375-9. Dunlap, William, A History of the Rise and Progress of The Arts of Design in the United States, A Reprint of the Original 1834 Edition with a New Introduction by James Thomas Flexner, Vol. 2, Part 2, New York: Dover Publications, 1969, p. 366. Baur, John I. H., The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge 1820-1910, New York: Arno Press, 1969, pp. 40-1. Parry, Elwood, Thomas Cole's "The Course of Empire:" A Study in Serial Imagery, PhD Dissertation, Yale, 1970, pp. 254-60. Glassie, Henry H., "Thomas Cole and Niagara Falls," The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. LVIII, No. 2, April 1974, p. 89. Novak, Barbara, "The Double-Edged Axe," Art in America, Vol. 64, No. 1, Jan.-Feb. 1976, pp. 44-50. New York State Museum, New York: The State of Art, Albany, New York: The New York State Museum, 1977, pp. 25, 30-1, and exhibition catalog, Mann, Maybelle, The American Art-Union, Jupiter FL: ALM Associates, c. 1977, pp. 15-7. Davidson, Abraham A., The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978, pp. 16-9, 138. Lynes, Russell, "Luman Reed: A New York Patron," Apollo, Vol. 107, No. 192, 1978, pp. 124-9. Cikovsky Jr., Nicolai, "'The Ravages of the Axe:" The Meaning of the Tree Stump in Nineteenth-Century American Art," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 61, No. 4, Dec., 1979, pp. 611-26. Craven, Wayne, "Luman Reed, patron: His Collection and Gallery," The American Art Journal, Vol. XII,, Spring 1980, pp. 43, 45, 50-6. Parry III, Ellwood C., "Thomas Cole's Ideas for Mr. Reed's Doors," The American Art Journal, Vol. XII,, Summer 1980, pp. 33-45. Baigell, Matthew, Thomas Cole, New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1981, pp. 16-9, 49-50, 52, 82. Treuttner, William H., "The Art of History: American Exploration and Discovery Scenes, 1840-1860," The American Art Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 1, Winter 1982, pp. 4-31. Kasson, Joy S., Artistic Voyagers: Europe and the American Imagination in the Works of Irving, Allston, Cole, Cooper and Hawthorne, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982, 84-90, 111-129. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 192-200. Tammenga, Michael J., The Beautiful, the Sublime, and The Picturesque: British Influences on American Landscape Painting, St. Louis Missouri: Washington University, 1984, p. 57. Maddox, Kenneth W., "Thomas Cole and the Railroad: Gentle Maledictions," Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1986, pp. 2-10. Kelly, Franklin, and Carr, Gerald L., The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845-1854, Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1987, p. 66. Menefee, Ellen Avitts, The Early Biblical Landscapes of Thomas Cole (1825-1829), Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI, 1987, p. 40, 80, 145. Miller, Angela, "Thomas Cole and Jacksonian America: The Course of Empire as Political Allegory," Prospects, Vol. 14, 1989, pp. 65-92. Powell, Earl A., Thomas Cole. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 62-71, 184. Foshay, Ella M., Luman Reed's Picture Gallery: Pioneer Collection of American Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 59-61, 130-40, 207-8. Platt, Susan, "Paradigms and Paradoxes: Nature, Morality, and Art in America," Art Journal, Vol. 51, No. 2, Summer 1992, pp. 82-88. Bryant II, William Cullen, Highlands Sketches: The Hudson River in the Eye of the Beholder, Mount Taurus Press, Nelsonville, New York: 1993, p. 13. Bailey, Brigitte, "The Protected Witness: Cole, Cooper, and the Tourist's View of the Italian Landscape," American Iconology: New Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993, pp. 92, 110. Daniels, Stephen, Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993, pp. 158-161. Robinson, Christine T., Guest Curator, Thomas Cole: Drawn to Nature, Albany, NY: Albany Institute of History & Art, 1993, pp. 34, 49-50, 52. Griffin, Randall C., "The Untrammeled Vision: Thomas Cole and the Dream of the Artist," Art Journal, Vol. 52, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 71. Nutty, Carolyn Sue Himelick, Joseph Harrison, Jr. (1810-1874): Philadelphia Art Collector, Vol. I, dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of Delaware in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Art History, Fall 1993, pp. 47-8. Caldwell, John and Roque, Oswaldo Rodriguez, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. I, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born by 1815, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, pp. 459-61. Wallach, Alan, "Museums and Resistance to History," The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 21, 1994, pp. B3-5. Cooper, James F., Knights of the Brush: The Hudson River School and the Moral Landscape, New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1999, pp. 31, 45-8, 77, 80. Koja, Stephan, Ed. AMERICA: The New World in 19th-Century Painting, Munich: New York: Prestel, 1999, pp. 25-7, 215, 235. Goldfarb, Hilliard T., Hirschler, Erica E., Lears, T. J. Jackson, Sargeant: The Late Landscapes, Boston: University Press of New England, 1999, pp. 8-9. New-York Historical Society, Perspectives on the Collections of the New-York Historical Society, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 2000, p. 28-30. Georgi, Karen L., "Asher B. Durand's American Landscapes and the Nature of Representation," PhD Dissertation, Boston University, 2000, pp. 115-7. Bedell, Rebecca, The Anatomy of Nature: Geology & American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 26, 29, 33, 36, 38-41, 45. Wilton, Andrew & Barringer, Tim, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880, London: Tate, 2002, pp. 23-4, 46, 51-3, 87, 95-109. Belli, Gabriella, Giacomoni, Paola, Cavino, Anna Ottani, curators, Montagna: Arte, scienza, Mito da Durer a Warhol, Milano: Skira, 2003, pp. 189-201. Simon, Janice, "Impressed in Memory: John Frederick Kensett's Italian Scene," Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth Century American Painting and the Italian Encounter, Athens, Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 51-69. Payne, Christine, and Vaughn, William, eds., English Accents: Interactions with British Art c. 1776-1853, Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004, pp. 10, 246. Burgard, Timothy Anglin, Ed., "Thomas Cole, Prometheus Bound," Masterworks of American Painting at the De Young, San Francisco: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2005, pp. 70-3, 483-4. Ramirez, Jan Seidler, "A History of the New-York Historical Society," The Magazine Antiques, January 2005, pp. 140-1. Vedder, Lee A., "Nineteenth-century American paintings," The Magazine Antiques, January, 2005, pp. 148-9. De Salvo, Donna and Norden, Linda, "Course of Empire: Waste and Retrieval," Course of Empire, Exhibition Publication for the United States Pavilion at the 51st International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, June 12-November 6, 2005, n.p. McDaniel, Amy Ellis, "Works on Paper by Thomas Cole in the Detroit Institute of Arts," Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. 80, No. ½, 2006, pp. 16-25. Keck, Michaela, Walking in the Wilderness: The Peripatetic Tradition in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Painting, Heidelberg: Winter, 2006, pp. 71-3, 75, 77. Novak, Barbara, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 47-8, 51, 54. Kornhauser, Elizabeth M., "The Hudson River School: Landscape Art in America, 1820-1870," America: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo", Italy: Linea d'Ombra Libri, 2007, p. 28. Hirshler, Erica Eve, "Nineteenth Century American Painters in Italy's 'Great University of Art,'" America: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo", Italy: Linea d'Ombra Libri, 2007, p. 75 Vedder, Lee A. "Nineteenth-century American paintings." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 146-155. Bland, Bartholomew F. and Vookles, Laura L. The Panoramic River: The Hudson and the Thames. Yonkers: Hudson River Museum, 2013.

Date End: 
1834
eMuseum Object ID: 
54879
Sort order: 
0
Exclude from TMS update: 
OFF
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

Italian Scene Composition

Collections: 
Classification: 
Date: 
1833
Medium: 
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 
Overall: 37 1/2 x 54 1/2 in. ( 95.2 x 138.4 cm ) Framed: 51 1/8 in. × 68 in. × 5 1/2 in. (129.9 × 172.7 × 14 cm)
Description: 
An idealized, composite view of Italian scenery in horizontal format incorporating landscape and archeological elements from both the Mediterranean coast and the Roman countryside. The dominant features of the landscape are the Roman ruins, roadside shrines, and enframing umbrella pine and cypress trees underneath a vast blue sky reflecting the artist's experience of Mediterranean light. In the left foreground, three Italian peasants, idealized as rustic primitives, dance underneath the large enframing tree.
Credit Line: 
Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts
Object Number: 
1858.19
Gallery Label: 
Cole painted this work shortly after returning from a trip to Europe from 1829 to 1832. The artist traveled to England, France, and Italy; he spent several months in Florence and later visited Rome. Cole responded strongly to the Italian landscape and particularly to its ruins, producing numerous sketches. In 1833 he met the wealthy merchant Luman Reed, whose first commission for Cole was an Italian landscape. The artist seized the opportunity to impress his new patron with a rich mixture of the motifs that had engaged him there. Cole created a serene, harmonious composition that shows in influence of the seventeenth-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain. At the left an umbrella pine shades a ruined temple, and peasants dance before it, blissfully unaware that it signals the transitory nature of human glory. At the right a young man leans against a broken column, perhaps, with Cole, contemplating the passing of civilizations (though the artist added a comic note in the goat behind him that is trying to pull his coat down from the pillar). Beyond him is a crumbling aqueduct. In spite of signs of life in the distance, such as the small town on the lakeshore and sailboats on the water, Cole presented a somber view of Italy as an exemplar of decline. He affirmed his intentions by attaching the following verse from Samuel Rogers' poem "Italy" to the painting: "Oh Italy, how beautiful thou art! Yet I could weep, for thou art lying, alas! Low in the dust, and they who come admire thee, As we admire the beautiful in death." The artist and critic William Dunlap recalled that after seeing the painting, Reed asked Cole the price and Cole ventured, "I shall be satisfied if I receive $300, but I should be gratified if the price is fixed at $500." Reed replied, "You shall be gratified," thus beginning a liberal and productive, if all too brief, partnership. The painting was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1834 and received enthusiastic praise from the New York Evening Post, which called the picture "the best that has ever passed from Mr. Cole's easel," and American Monthly Magazine agreed that it was "glorious."
Provenance: 
Luman Reed, d. 1836; Mrs. Luman Reed, New York, 1836-44; New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1844-58.
Bibliography: 
Clark, Lewis Gaylord, ed. The Knickerbocker, Vol. III, No. 5, May, 1834, pp. 399-400. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XI, May 17, 1834, p. 3, No. 67. "Miscellaneous Notices of Literature, Fine Arts, Sciences, The Drama &c., National Academy of Design," The American Monthly Magazine, Vol. III, June 1, 1834, pp. 281-3. "National Academy of Design," The New York Evening Post, June 5, 1834, p. 2. The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851, ed. with an introduction by Bayard Tuckerman, New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1889, p. 15. Seaver, Esther, ed., Thomas Cole, 1801-1848, One Hundred Years Later, Hartford, Ct.: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1949, p. 23, No. 18. Dunlap, William, A History of the Rise and Progress of The Arts of Design in the United States, A Reprint of the Original 1834 Edition with a New Introduction by James Thomas Flexner, 1969, Vol. 2, Part 2, New York: Dover Publications, p. 367. Mann, Maybelle, The American Art-Union, Jupiter FL: ALM Associates, c. 1977, pp. 25, 82-3. Craven, Wayne, "Thomas Cole and Italy," The Magazine Antiques, Vol. 114, November 1978, p. 1016-7. Craven, Wayne, "Luman Reed, Patron: His Collection and Gallery," The American Art Journal, Vol. XII, No. 2, Spring 1980, p. 50. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 189-90. Tammenga, Michael J., The Beautiful, the Sublime, and The Picturesque: British Influences on American Landscape Painting, St. Louis Missouri: Washington University, 1984, pp. 29-30, 57. Powell, Earl A., Thomas Cole. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, p. 54. Foshay, Ella M., Mr. Luman Reed's Picture Gallery: A Pioneer Collection of American Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 45, 57-8, 73, 122-3, 126-7, 130. Kelly, Franklin, "Mount's Patrons," William Sidney Mount: Painter of American Life, New York: The American Federation of Arts, pp. 115, 126. Vedder, Lee A., "Nineteenth-century American Paintings," The Magazine Antiques, January 2005, p. 146.
Date Begin: 
0
Date End: 
1833
eMuseum Object ID: 
54871
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

River Scene, Catskill

Collections: 
Classification: 
Date: 
1861
Medium: 
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 
frame: 24 7/8 x 21 3/4 x 3 in. ( 63.2 x 55.2 x 7.6 cm ) Overall: 15 x 12 in. ( 38.1 x 30.5 cm )
Description: 
Landscape of a river scene in the Catskill, NY; prominent rocks on left; tall trees on left; trees on right; river reflects the trees on the right.
Credit Line: 
The Robert L. Stuart Collection, the gift of his widow Mrs. Mary Stuart
Object Number: 
S-4
Marks: 
initialed and dated: on bottom center (on rock): "J.W.C./61"
Date Begin: 
0
Date End: 
1861
eMuseum Object ID: 
44353
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

Castle Garden, New York City

Classification: 
Is owned by NYHS: 
Yes
Highlight: 
Display this item in the highlights
Date: 
1859
Medium: 
Oil on canvas (relined)
Dimensions: 
Overall: 15 1/8 x 24 1/4 in. ( 38.4 x 61.6 cm ) Framed: 21 × 30 × 2 3/4 in. (53.3 × 76.2 × 7 cm)
Credit Line: 
Purchase, Thomas Jefferson Bryan Fund
Object Number: 
1972.13
Marks: 
Signed and dated lower middle: J F Cropsey / 1859. Inscribed in pencil on wood backing panel: Castle Garden, New York / J. F. Cropsey—London—1859
Gallery Label: 
The composition is identical with Cropsey's earlier study of the same subject painted in 1851 in the Society's collection. The main difference between the two is that the 1859 version is a moonlight scene. This later rendering is quite likely the one sold to the lithographer E. Gambert on July 28, 1859, while Cropsey was in London. The artist was then in the process of producing paintings 15 x 24 inches in size to be lithographed by Gambert.
Bibliography: 
Talbot, William Silas. Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900, A dissertation in the Department of Fine Arts submitted to the faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Science in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of New York University, June 1972, p. 318. 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. 233. Bland, Bartholomew F. and Vookles, Laura L. The Panoramic River: The Hudson and the Thames. Yonkers: Hudson River Museum, 2013.
Date Begin: 
0
Date End: 
1859
eMuseum Object ID: 
41643
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

A Sketch of Castle Garden, New York

Collections: 
Classification: 
Date: 
1851
Medium: 
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 
Overall: 10 1/2 x 16 3/8 in. ( 26.7 x 41.6 cm ) Framed: 16 1/4 × 22 1/4 × 4 in. (41.3 × 56.5 × 10.2 cm)
Credit Line: 
Purchase, Thomas Jefferson Bryan Fund
Object Number: 
1977.76
Marks: 
Signed lower right: J F Cropsey. Inscribed in ink on reverse in artist’s hand: A sketch of Castle Garden / for M[lle]? [illegible] / Jenny Lind / with the best wishes of the Artist / J. F. C.
Gallery Label: 
Abraham Cozzens of the American-Art Union commissioned a copy in 1850, and this version was sold along wit the rest of his collection at the Clinton Hall, Art Galleries. The Society's version which is inscribed as a presentation study for Miss Lind, would suggest that it is the original version. The Society also has a moonlight study of Castle Garden by Cropsey, dated 1859, based on the same composition.
Bibliography: 
Talbot, William Silas. Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900, A dissertation in the Department of Fine Arts submitted to the faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Science in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of New York University, June 1972, pp. 98-99, 312, 362-4. Antiques, 111, Apr-June, 1977, p. 997. Advertisement, Antiques, 112, Oct-Dec, 1977, p. 641. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 229, 232-3. Hall-Duncan, A Man for All Seasons Jasper Francis Cropsey, Greenwich, CT: The Bruce Museum, 1988, n.p. Bland, Bartholomew F. and Vookles, Laura L. The Panoramic River: The Hudson and the Thames. Yonkers: Hudson River Museum, 2013.
Date Begin: 
0
Date End: 
1851
eMuseum Object ID: 
41642
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

The Course of Empire: Destruction

Classification: 
Is owned by NYHS: 
Yes
Highlight: 
Display this item in the highlights
Date: 
1836
Medium: 
Oil on canvas (relined)
Dimensions: 
Overall: 39 1/4 x 63 1/2 in. ( 99.7 x 161.3 cm ) Framed: 53 in. × 6 ft. 4 1/2 in. × 5 3/4 in. (134.6 × 194.3 × 14.
Description: 

Thomas Cole. The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836. Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 63 1/2 in. New-York Historical Society, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts.

Credit Line: 
Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts
Object Number: 
1858.4
Marks: 
signed, dated lower right: 'T. Cole / 1836'
Gallery Label: 

In the late 1820s the young Thomas Cole quickly built a successful career as a painter of Hudson River landscapes, but he harbored ambitions of turning the landscape form to a larger purpose. As early as 1827 he conceived a cycle of paintings that would illustrate the rise and fall of a civilization, and a few years later he began sketching and developing his ideas. The artist attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Robert Gilmor, a Baltimore patron, to commission the series, and in 1833 he secured a commission from New York merchant Luman Reed to paint a cycle of five paintings for the art gallery in his home. In the resulting series, The Course of Empire, Cole presented a cyclical view of history in which a civilization appears, matures, and collapses. The artist's distinctly pessimistic vision differed from that of many of his peers; in the early years of the United States' history, its future was considered limitless. Cole drew from a number of literary sources, such as Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Byron's epic Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The motto he attached to the series was taken from Byron's popular poem: "First freedom, then glory; when that fails, wealth, vice, corruption." The artist finally settled on a title in 1835, taken from Bishop George Berkeley's 1729 poem, "Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America," which begins "Westward the Course of Empire takes its way." Cole also drew upon paintings he had seen on his recent trip to Europe (1829-32), including the work of J.M.W. Turner and Claude Lorrain. The five paintings follow a dramatic narrative arc, anchored by the imperturbable mountain in the background, and expounded with rich and complex symbolic systems that illustrate this imaginary world's history, including the course of the sun across the sky, the changing relation of man to nature, the role of animals, the arts, and the military, and even the placement and character of his own signature. Luman Reed, Cole's generous patron, did not live to see the completion of the series. He died in June of 1836, but Reed's family encouraged Cole to complete the work. The series was exhibited to great acclaim in New York later that year. The Course of Empire, along with the rest of Reed's collection, became the core of the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts. That group of works was donated to the New-York Historical Society in 1858, forming the foundation of its acclaimed collection of American landscape painting. This fourth and most dramatic of the images in the cycle depicts the ruin of Cole's civilization. On August 30, 1836 the artist wrote to his friend and fellow artist Asher B. Durand "I have been engaged in Sacking & Burning a city every since I saw you & am well nigh tired of such horrid work." The vainglorious city that Cole depicted in The Consummation of Empire has fallen to a savage enemy, and the critic for the New-York Mirror lauded Cole's critique of imperial rule, agreeing with the artist's depiction that "[s]uch is the merited downfall of all the empires which the earth has heretofore known." Instead of the statue of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, that kept watch over The Consummation of Empire, a headless colossal figure taken from the Louvre's Borghese Warrior witnesses the rapacious acts of the invading army. Cole was likely influenced by the English painter John Martin's panoramic scenes of apocalyptic disaster, and he no doubt knew that his depiction would bring to mind the terror and destruction wrought in New York by the Great Fire of 1835. Unlike the other paintings, here Cole's signature is audaciously large and carved in slashing letters, almost like an act of vandalism, on the pedestal of the ruined statue at the right.

Provenance: 

Luman Reed, d. 1836; Mrs. Luman Reed, New York, 1836-44; New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1844-58.

Bibliography: 

Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XII, No. 23, December 6, 1834, p. 179. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIII, April 2, 1836, p. 318. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 17, October 22, 1836, p. 135. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 18, October 29, 1836, p. 142. Clark, Lewis Gaylord, ed. The Knickerbocker, Vol. VIII, No. 5, November, 1836, pp. 81, 630. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 19, November 4, 1836, p. 150. "Amusements," New York Commercial Advertiser, Vol. XXXIX, Friday, November 4, 1836, n.p. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 20, November 12, 1836, p. 158. Morris, G. P., ed., "The Fine Arts," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. XIV, No. 27, December 31, 1836, p. 215. Poe, Edgar Allen, ed., "The New York Gallery of the Fine Arts," The Broadway Journal, I, February 15,1845, pp. 102-103. Bryant, William Cullen, Funeral Oration, occasioned by the Death of Thomas Cole, Delivered Before the National Academy of Design, New-York, May 4, 1848, New York, D. Appleton & Company, pp. 23-4, 26. Exhibition of the Paintings of the late Thomas Cole, at the Gallery of the American Art-Union, 1848, pp. 19-20. Noble, Louis Legrand, The Course of Empire, Voyage of life, and Other Pictures of Thomas Cole, N. A., With Selections from his Letters and Miscellaneous Writings: Illustrative of his Life, Character, and Genius, New York: Cornish, Lamport & Company, 1853, n.p. Stillman, W. J. & Durand, J. Eds., "The Artists of America," The Crayon, Vol. VII, No. 2, February 1860, pp. 45-6. Hone, Philip, The Diary of Philip Hone 1828-1851, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1889, p. 236. Durand, John, The Life and Times of Asher B. Durand, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894; Reprint, Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press, 2007), p. 124. Caffin, Charles H., The Story of American Painting: The Evolution of Painting in America from Colonial Times to the Present, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1907, pp. 66, 69-70. Mather, Frank Jewett, Morey, Charles Rufus, and Henderson, William James, The Pageant of America: The American Spirit in Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927, p. 43. Isham, Samuel, The History of American Painting, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936, pp. 225-6. Sweet, Frederick A. "Asher B. Durand, Pioneer, American Landscape Painter," The Art Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring, 1945, pp. 141, 153. Howe, Winifred E., A History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a Chapter on the Early Institutions of Art in New York. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1946, pp. 62-7 Thomas Cole: One Hundred Years Later, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT 1948, pp. 10-1. Tunnard, Christopher, "Reflections on the Course of Empire and other Architectural Fantasies of Thomas Cole, N.A.," The Architectural Review, Vol. 104, December 1948, pp. 291-294. Davidson, Marshall, "Whither the Course of Empire?" American Heritage, October 1957, pp. 52-5, 58-61, 104. Flexner, James Thomas, That Wilder Image: The Painting of America's Native School from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962, pp. 49-58, 108, 354. McCoubrey, John, American Tradition in Painting, New York: G. Braziller, 1963, p. 65. Exhibition at Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1964, pp. 14, 26-7. Noble, Louis Legrand, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, Hensonville, New York: Black Dome Press, 1964, pp. 103, 112, 129-131, 149-50, 155, 157-9, 164-74, 264, 268, 287. Wallach, Alan P., "The Origins of Thomas Cole's 'Course of Empire,'" M.A. Thesis, Columbia University, 1965. Lawall, David B., Asher Brown Durand: His Art and Art Theory in Relation to His Times, PhD Dissertation, Princeton, 1966, pp. 170-92, 288-9. Callow, James T., Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855, Durham, North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, 1967, p. 157. Annual II: Studies on Thomas Cole, An American Romanticist, Baltimore, Maryland: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1967, pp. 72-4. Wallach, Alan P., "Cole, Byron, and the Course of Empire," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 50, No. 4, December 1968, pp. 375-9. Dunlap, William, A History of the Rise and Progress of The Arts of Design in the United States, A Reprint of the Original 1834 Edition with a New Introduction by James Thomas Flexner, Vol. 2, Part 2, New York: Dover Publications, 1969, p. 366. Baur, John I. H., The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge 1820-1910, New York: Arno Press, 1969, pp. 40-1. Parry, Elwood, Thomas Cole's "The Course of Empire:" A Study in Serial Imagery, PhD Dissertation, Yale, 1970, pp. 254-60. Glassie, Henry H., "Thomas Cole and Niagara Falls," The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. LVIII, No. 2, April 1974, p. 89. Novak, Barbara, "The Double-Edged Axe," Art in America, Vol. 64, No. 1, Jan.-Feb. 1976, pp. 44-50. New York State Museum, New York: The State of Art, Albany, New York: The New York State Museum, 1977, pp. 25, 30-1, and exhibition catalog, Mann, Maybelle, The American Art-Union, Jupiter FL: ALM Associates, c. 1977, pp. 15-7. Davidson, Abraham A., The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978, pp. 16-9, 138. Lynes, Russell, "Luman Reed: A New York Patron," Apollo, Vol. 107, No. 192, 1978, pp. 124-9. Cikovsky Jr., Nicolai, "'The Ravages of the Axe:" The Meaning of the Tree Stump in Nineteenth-Century American Art," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 61, No. 4, Dec., 1979, pp. 611-26. Craven, Wayne, "Luman Reed, patron: His Collection and Gallery," The American Art Journal, Vol. XII,, Spring 1980, pp. 43, 45, 50-6. Parry III, Ellwood C., "Thomas Cole's Ideas for Mr. Reed's Doors," The American Art Journal, Vol. XII,, Summer 1980, pp. 33-45. Baigell, Matthew, Thomas Cole, New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1981, pp. 16-9, 49-50, 52, 82. Treuttner, William H., "The Art of History: American Exploration and Discovery Scenes, 1840-1860," The American Art Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 1, Winter 1982, pp. 4-31. Kasson, Joy S., Artistic Voyagers: Europe and the American Imagination in the Works of Irving, Allston, Cole, Cooper and Hawthorne, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982, 84-90, 111-129. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 192-200. Tammenga, Michael J., The Beautiful, the Sublime, and The Picturesque: British Influences on American Landscape Painting, St. Louis Missouri: Washington University, 1984, p. 57. Maddox, Kenneth W., "Thomas Cole and the Railroad: Gentle Maledictions," Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1986, pp. 2-10. Kelly, Franklin, and Carr, Gerald L., The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845-1854, Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1987, p. 66. Menefee, Ellen Avitts, The Early Biblical Landscapes of Thomas Cole (1825-1829), Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI, 1987, p. 40, 80, 145. Miller, Angela, "Thomas Cole and Jacksonian America: The Course of Empire as Political Allegory," Prospects, Vol. 14, 1989, pp. 65-92. Powell, Earl A., Thomas Cole. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 62-71, 184. Foshay, Ella M., Luman Reed's Picture Gallery: Pioneer Collection of American Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 59-61, 130-40, 207-8. Platt, Susan, "Paradigms and Paradoxes: Nature, Morality, and Art in America," Art Journal, Vol. 51, No. 2, Summer 1992, pp. 82-88. Bryant II, William Cullen, Highlands Sketches: The Hudson River in the Eye of the Beholder, Mount Taurus Press, Nelsonville, New York: 1993, p. 13. Bailey, Brigitte, "The Protected Witness: Cole, Cooper, and the Tourist's View of the Italian Landscape," American Iconology: New Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993, pp. 92, 110. Daniels, Stephen, Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993, pp. 158-161. Robinson, Christine T., Guest Curator, Thomas Cole: Drawn to Nature, Albany, NY: Albany Institute of History & Art, 1993, pp. 34, 49-50, 52. Griffin, Randall C., "The Untrammeled Vision: Thomas Cole and the Dream of the Artist," Art Journal, Vol. 52, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 71. Nutty, Carolyn Sue Himelick, Joseph Harrison, Jr. (1810-1874): Philadelphia Art Collector, Vol. I, dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of Delaware in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Art History, Fall 1993, pp. 47-8. Caldwell, John and Roque, Oswaldo Rodriguez, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. I, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born by 1815, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, pp. 459-61. Wallach, Alan, "Museums and Resistance to History," The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 21, 1994, pp. B3-5. Cooper, James F., Knights of the Brush: The Hudson River School and the Moral Landscape, New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1999, pp. 31, 45-8, 77, 80. Koja, Stephan, Ed. AMERICA: The New World in 19th-Century Painting, Munich: New York: Prestel, 1999, pp. 25-7, 215, 235. Goldfarb, Hilliard T., Hirschler, Erica E., Lears, T. J. Jackson, Sargeant: The Late Landscapes, Boston: University Press of New England, 1999, pp. 8-9. New-York Historical Society, Perspectives on the Collections of the New-York Historical Society, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 2000, p. 28-30. Georgi, Karen L., "Asher B. Durand's American Landscapes and the Nature of Representation," PhD Dissertation, Boston University, 2000, pp. 115-7. Bedell, Rebecca, The Anatomy of Nature: Geology & American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 26, 29, 33, 36, 38-41, 45. Wilton, Andrew & Barringer, Tim, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880, London: Tate, 2002, pp. 23-4, 46, 51-3, 87, 95-109. Belli, Gabriella, Giacomoni, Paola, Cavino, Anna Ottani, curators, Montagna: Arte, scienza, Mito da Durer a Warhol, Milano: Skira, 2003, pp. 189-201. Simon, Janice, "Impressed in Memory: John Frederick Kensett's Italian Scene," Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth Century American Painting and the Italian Encounter, Athens, Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 51-69. Payne, Christine, and Vaughn, William, eds., English Accents: Interactions with British Art c. 1776-1853, Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004, pp. 10, 246. Burgard, Timothy Anglin, Ed., "Thomas Cole, Prometheus Bound," Masterworks of American Painting at the De Young, San Francisco: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2005, pp. 70-3, 483-4. Ramirez, Jan Seidler, "A History of the New-York Historical Society," The Magazine Antiques, January 2005, pp. 140-1. Vedder, Lee A., "Nineteenth-century American paintings," The Magazine Antiques, January, 2005, pp. 148-9. De Salvo, Donna and Norden, Linda, "Course of Empire: Waste and Retrieval," Course of Empire, Exhibition Publication for the United States Pavilion at the 51st International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, June 12-November 6, 2005, n.p. McDaniel, Amy Ellis, "Works on Paper by Thomas Cole in the Detroit Institute of Arts," Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. 80, No. ½, 2006, pp. 16-25. Keck, Michaela, Walking in the Wilderness: The Peripatetic Tradition in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Painting, Heidelberg: Winter, 2006, pp. 71-3, 75, 77. Novak, Barbara, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 47-8, 51, 54. Kornhauser, Elizabeth M., "The Hudson River School: Landscape Art in America, 1820-1870," America: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo", Italy: Linea d'Ombra Libri, 2007, p. 28. Hirshler, Erica Eve, "Nineteenth Century American Painters in Italy's 'Great University of Art,'" America: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo", Italy: Linea d'Ombra Libri, 2007, p. 75 Vedder, Lee A. "Nineteenth-century American paintings." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 146-155. Bland, Bartholomew F. and Vookles, Laura L. The Panoramic River: The Hudson and the Thames. Yonkers: Hudson River Museum, 2013. Bland, Bartholomew F., et al. Industrial Sublime: Modernism and the Transformation of New York's Rivers, 1900-1940. Yonkers: Hudson River Museum, 2013.

Date End: 
1836
eMuseum Object ID: 
41597
Exclude from TMS update: 
OFF
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

Romantic Landscape ("Last of the Mohicans")

Collections: 
Classification: 
Date: 
1827
Medium: 
Oil on paper
Dimensions: 
Overall: 8 1/8 x 11 1/8 in. (20.6 x 28.3 cm)
Credit Line: 
Gift of an Anonymous Donor
Object Number: 
1947.417
Inscriptions: 
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.
Bibliography: 
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.
Date Begin: 
0
Date End: 
1827
eMuseum Object ID: 
41596
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

Study for Dream of Arcadia

Collections: 
Classification: 
Date: 
1838
Medium: 
Oil on wood panel
Dimensions: 
Overall (canvas): 8 3/4 x 14 1/2 in. (22.2 x 36.8 cm) Framed: 15 1/2 in. × 21 in. × 3 in. (39.4 × 53.3 × 7.6 cm)
Credit Line: 
Gift of the children of the artist, through John Durand
Object Number: 
1903.9
Gallery Label: 
Cole was acquainted with the artist Asher B. Durand from the beginning of his career, and in the later 1830s the two developed a close friendship that would continue through the rest of Cole's life. In 1837 Durand presented a portrait of Cole to his new wife Maria (Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts). On December 11, 1837 Cole wrote to Durand of Mrs. Cole's delight that she "does not know how ever she shall get out of your debt." Perhaps in a gesture of gratitude, Cole gave Durand this small sketch of his larger painting of the same title (Denver Art Museum). It is a charming reminder of their correspondence about the painting itself and their shared travails as landscapists. On March 20, 1838 Cole wrote fancifully to Durand that "I took a trip to Arcadia in a dream," and he described his physical progress through the landscape of his picture as a metaphor for his work on the painting, scraping his shins scrambling up a high mountain, and butting his nose against a marble temple. He noted that he found the inhabitants of that country "very troublesome" and that "they have almost murdered me." Durand, feeling harried by his own work, responded on March 30 that regarding Cole's "Arcadian mishaps, I find much to excite my sympathy, for no 'pauvre diable' ever trudged harder thro' 'Fogs Lakes and Fens, rocks, caves and glens' than I have for many weeks past." Cole exhibited the large painting Dream of Arcadia at the National Academy of Design in early May, 1838. Durand had not acknowledged receiving the study in his letter of March 30, so it is likely that the N-YHS work was executed after the larger painting was essentially planned, rather than as a preparatory work. The sketch reprises the basic landscape elements, but the figures are fewer and smaller in scale. This is not surprising, given the difficulty Cole professed in realizing the figures, whom he joked had "almost murdered him." He changed the statue at lower left as well: in the large finished work it is a garlanded bust with a severe expression surrounded by figures dancing and playing music, but in the small sketch the bust has become a full figure on a much taller pedestal, perhaps functioning as a protector, rather than a stern deity to be appeased. This study ostensibly takes the form of trompe l'oeil; the sketch appears to be pinned to a board at each corner and the edges of the canvas are curled. However, Cole contradicted the aim of trompe l'oeil, which is to fool the eye with a high degree of finish and exacting detail; his sketchy handling of the "wood" background and the edges of the faux canvas suggests a witty satire of the idea that painting can or should present an exact replica of nature. Durand would have agreed about the impossibility of truly imitating the wonders of nature. In his March 30 letter to Cole he rhapsodized on the coming of spring and "the unapproachable charms of this beautiful Creation. I mean unapproachable by our feeble efforts of imitation."
Bibliography: 
"An Aged Artist," The Studio, August 1883. pp. 60-3. "Pictures by Durand," The New York Times, April 26, 1903, p. 34. Seaver, Esther, ed., Thomas Cole, 1801-1848, One Hundred Years Later, Hartford, Ct.: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1949, pp. 27, 42, No. 29. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 205-6. Columbus Museum of Art, 1985, More Than Meets The Eye: The Art of Trompe l'Oeil, pp. 26, 30, 33, 50-51. Novak, Barbara, Dreams and Shadows Thomas H. Hotchkiss in Nineteenth-Century Italy, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1993, p. 135. Ledes, Allison Eckhardt, "A Bicentennial in New York City," The Magazine Antiques, January 2005, p. 152. Leggio, Gail, "In Nature's Presence: Asher B. Durand and American Landscape," American Arts Quarterly, Spring 2007, pp. 10-1, 14-8. Ferber, Linda S., ed., Kindred Spirits Asher B. Durand and the American Landscape, Brooklyn Museum, 2007, pp. 132-3, 135. Vedder, Lee A. "Nineteenth-century American paintings." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 146-155.
Date Begin: 
0
Date End: 
1838
eMuseum Object ID: 
41594
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

Summer Twilight, A Recollection of a Scene in New England

Collections: 
Classification: 
Date: 
1834
Medium: 
Oil on wood panel
Dimensions: 
Overall: 14 x 19 1/2 in. ( 35.6 x 49.5 cm ) Framed: 22 in. × 28 1/2 in. × 3 in. (55.9 × 72.4 × 7.6 cm)
Credit Line: 
Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts
Object Number: 
1858.46
Gallery Label: 
Cole painted this and its pendant Autumn Twilight, View of Conway Peak, New Hampshire (1858.42) while he was in the early stages of creating his monumental five-painting series The Course of Empire (1858.1-5). That series traces the rise and fall of an imaginary civilization, and in this pair Cole prefigured the larger themes of the series, but he placed them in an unmistakably American context. The critic and painter William Dunlap recalled visiting Cole in his studio on November 15, 1834 and seeing "2 small jewells [sic] & 2 larger paintings being the first two of the sett [sic] of 5 for Luman Reed Esq." The two large works were The Savage State (1858.1) and The Arcadian or Pastoral State (1858.2), which begin The Course of Empire series. The two "small jewells" [sic] were these seasonal twilight scenes, which closely parallel the themes of their larger counterparts. Cole clearly intended them as a pair: they are the same size and retain their identical original frames. Cole exhibited them together at the National Academy of Design in 1834, perhaps as a preview of his series. By contrast, Summer Twilight glows with a benign sunset. An ax-hewn stump at lower left signifies the coming of European "civilization," but here man and nature exist in pastoral harmony. The small homestead at the left and the log cabin on the shore at the right nestle comfortably into the scene, dwarfed by the magnificent expanse of water, mountains and sky. Sheep and cows graze, and the lone woodsman at the lower center pauses from his labors to appreciate the majesty of the sunset. This idealized vision is perfectly in keeping with Cole's The Arcadian or Pastoral State, which exalts the fleeting moment when man is in harmony with nature and has not yet overcome it - a moment that Cole saw passing from the American scene.
Provenance: 
Luman Reed, d. 1836; Mrs. Luman Reed, New York, 1836-44; New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1844-58.
Bibliography: 
Morris, G. P., ed., "The National Academy: Second Notice," The New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. 12, May 16, 1835, p. 371. Herbert, Henry William," Fine Arts in America: National Academy of Design, Tenth Annual Exhibition," The American Monthly Magazine V, June, 1835, p. 317, no. 25. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 203-4. Foshay, Ella M., Mr. Luman Reed's Picture Gallery: A Pioneer Collection of American Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, pp. 128-9, 206-7. Koja, Stephan, Ed. AMERICA: The New World in 19th-Century Painting, Munich: New York: Prestel, 1999, pp. 72, 215.
Date Begin: 
0
Date End: 
1834
eMuseum Object ID: 
41458
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.

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