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Ishraq Haque

Thomas Cole

Artistic Genius

Honors Art 


This booklet was created to examine the life and artworks of Thomas Cole, and to explore the qualities of Romanticism seen in Cole's paintings. Thomas Cole was a humble painter who captured the moments in nature and in his travels and studies. I personally enjoy viewing the artwork of Cole and I selected him for my booklet project because he was able to capture the beauty of nature and enhance it to a new level.

Short Biography

Thomas Cole was born in Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, England on February 1, 1801. At the age of 17, he emigrated with his family from England to Philadelphia to start a family business. His family consisted of a father and mother who did business and a sister. His family then moved to Ohio where he began learning basic artistic skills from itinerant painter after Cole as a young adult was becoming dissatisfied with his family business. Interestingly, Cole was also an engraver along with becoming a painter. He then moved back to Philadelphia again and later New York where he then began to explore and paint various settings of the wilderness, which highly influenced him. Then, he began getting attention from a variety of people after Colonel John Trumbull bought one of Cole's paintings. After gaining popularity, Cole traveled to a variety of places including Rome, Naples, other parts of New York, and more in order to learn more about art and to capture the beauty of the wilderness. He got married to a niece of a farm owner, had five children with her, lead a modest life, and died on February 11, 1848.

Cole's Style

Thomas Cole was heavily influenced and even participated in the Romantic movement and the style. The romantic movement is the reaction of the neoclassicism movement; moreover, romanticism is exotic, mystical, emotive, irrational at times, and more. This movement helped trigger many emotions. It also was in a way very natural and showcased the beauty of nature and even life. Cole's work is an example of romantic artwork because his artwork  also triggered many emotions and it was very mystical too. For example, "Youth" from the Voyage of Life displays mystical creatures, a hero, and a kingdom far away. Courageous emotions are also triggered from this painting. In addition, many natural colors, lights, and shades are seen here. Examples of painters from this time period include Albert Bierstadt and John Constable. Neoclassic artists may have inspired these romantic artists, but it is important to consider that Romanticism is a reaction to Neoclassicism. Also, Romantic artists helped inspire the Realism movements in a way by making the Realists reject the ways of Romanticism and Neoclassicism. 

Cole's Style Continued

In addition, Thomas Cole was also a part of the Hudson River School; he used this art style too. He is often considered to even be the founder of the Hudson River School. The art movement known as the Hudson River School can be defined as an artistic movement that captures the beauty of the American wilderness. The paintings of this movement reflect the values of discovery, exploration, and settlement. The natural beauty of the American wilderness is captured using natural colors, lights, shadows, proportions, and this beauty is also captured by using realistic scenes. Cole is a part of this movement because some of his artwork, like the "Distant View of the Niagara Falls," clearly display the serene beauty of the wilderness by using natural colors, proportions, lights, and shadows. Other members of this movement include artists like Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt. This movement has been inspired by Romantic painters, as seen with the inclusion of exotic scenes and realistic colors and moments. This artistic movement also helped influence future artists who wanted to capture natural scenes. Some impressionist art may have also been influenced partly by the Hudson River School.

Brief Exhibition of Paintings

Title: View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (The Oxbow)

Date Created: 1836

Current Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York, United States of America

Medium: Oil on canvas

Description: Cole divided this painting into two halves: one half is severely destroyed with damaged trees and thunderclouds and another half is calm and peaceful. Cole heavily utilizes contrast in this painting by using lighter colors versus darker colors. The land to the east is calm, peaceful, domesticated, and controlled by humans. However, the land on the right is wild and uncontrolled, and it can elicit fear and danger. The painter uses the contrast to support the Manifest Destiny and indirectly implies how expanding will help control the land and support more people.

Title: The Titan's Goblet

Date Created: 1833

Current Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York, United States of America

Medium: Oil on canvas

Description: This painting shows Cole's Romantic artistic traits. In the painting, there is a large goblet-shaped earth mound that has a little village within it along with a little lake. This painting has ties to Norse and Greek myths and legends. Basically, one way to interpret this is to think about how some might consider there to be a world above humans. This world is higher up in comparison from the human world, but this world also helped create human civilization. This connects to the painting because this painting has a little village above, but the goblet-shaped mound has water leaking out of it. From the leaks, human civilization may have been created. There is a lot of exotic qualities, natural colors, lights, shadows, and proportions. 

Title: The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge

Date Created: 1829

Current Location: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., United States of America

Medium: Oil on canvas

Description: Cole uses a wide view of landscape in order to convey his thoughts. Natural colors are clearly seen here along with small details of earth, making the painting more realistic. He based this painting off of the founding of the United States of America. He portrayed the founding of the country by depicting a scene from the Biblical Great Blood. As seen in the painting, the waters are residing and coming down. Based on the Biblical story, the flood swept away British control from the 13 colonies in North America, the skull in the painting represents how all things bad and evil were wiped out, and the bird represents a new, joyous age coming in for the United States. Interestingly, Cole's connection to religion in this painting was probably influenced by his wife.

Title: The Fountain of Vaucluse

Date Created: 1841

Current Location: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, United States of America

Medium: Oil on canvas

Description: Once again, Cole's appreciation for beauty can be seen here based on his inclusion of natural colors, lights, shadows, proportions, and small details that make the painting seem more realistic. Vaucluse, a region in southern France, was the final home of Petrarch, a famous Italian poet. Cole wanted to capture the beauty of the poet's final home, so he created this paining. He recreated Petrarch's castle in his own way, exaggerated the cliffs to create a dramatic effect, and enhanced the visual quality of the general environment.

Title: Romantic Landscape with Ruined Tower

Date Created: 1836

Current Location: Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, New York, United States of America

Medium: Oil on canvas

Description: This painting was created after Cole became inspired by the many European ruins he visited in his life. Contrast is seen between the light and dark colors to indicate how nature was taking over the looming tower. The old tower is highly emphasized in the painting, but it is taken over by greenery. Cole created this painting to show how nature takes over everything at one point, and he wanted to show how things change over time.  However, he also wanted to indirectly imply how the future comes faster than one thinks it does.

Title: Distant View of Niagara Falls

Date: 1830

Current Location: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America

Medium: Oil on canvas

Description: Cole displays the beauty of nature, specifically the autumn time, with this painting. A lot of warm colors are seen in the painting along with chiaroscuro. The picture shows the beauty of the Niagara Falls before the many changes by humans that occurred in the area. Cole tries to showcase the beauty of nature, and he tries to celebrate the American wilderness that is slowly disappearing. The painter also included Native Americans within the picture to further reinforce the fact that the painting shows the Niagara Falls before the Europeans came and changed the area permanently.

Personal Favorites

"The Oxbow" is one of my personal favorites out of all of Cole's paintings because it shows the many sides of nature; moreover, it shows how nature has bad sides and good sides. In addition, I love the many small details included, like natural colors and chiaroscuro, that made the painting seem very realistic. Based on the natural setting, one can conclude that Cole's strong relationship with the Hudson River School can be seen with this painting. I see a beautiful riverside region with hills and meadows, and I also see a ravaged side of a forest along with thunderclouds that elicits fear. Green dominates the painting with the grass, trees, and more. The different aspects of nature seen in the painting moves and appeals me, and this painting makes me think of how there are positive and negative parts within many things in life.

The "Romantic Landscape with Ruined Tower" is also one of my personal favorites. I liked this painting because it shows the interaction between nature and human civilization. Cole's Romantic artistic trait can be seen here due to the inclusion of the exotic tower interacting with the mystic greenery. I see a large and old tower that is taken over with greenery along a large body of water. Green, blue, and brown dominate the painting. Little hints  of the Hudson River School can also be seen here due to the beautiful landscape view. The interaction between nature and human civilization appeals to me and moves me because I have always been fascinated in the interaction between man and nature in general. This painting makes me think of how things change as time progresses.