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painting by Thomas Cole

Voyage of Life Childhood by Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole forever gave us the idealized vision of America in its early days. The depiction of the mountains and valleys bathed in the magical sunlight of the new frontier is now etched in our collective memories.

Thomas Cole (February 1, 1801 – February 11, 1848) was an English-born American artist. He is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century. Cole’s Hudson River School, as well as his own work, was known for its realistic and detailed portrayal of American landscape and wilderness, which feature themes of romanticism andnaturalism.

Cole was primarily a painter of landscapes, but he also painted allegorical works. The most famous of these are the five-part series, The Course of Empire, which depict the same landscape over generations—from a near state of nature to consummation of empire, and then decline and desolution—now in the collection of the New York Historical Society and the four-part The Voyage of Life. There are two versions of the latter, one at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the other at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York. Among Cole’s other famous works are the Oxbow (1836), the Notch of the White Mountains, Daniel Boone at His cabin at the Great Osage Lake, and Lake with Dead Trees (1825) which is at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. He also painted The Garden of Eden (1828), with lavish detail of Adam and Eve living amid waterfalls, vivid plants, and deer.

After 1827 Cole maintained a studio at the farm called Cedar Grove in the town of Catskill, New York. He painted a significant portion of his work in this studio. In 1836 he married Maria Bartow of Catskill, a niece of the owner, and became a year-round resident. Thomas and Maria had five children.

Thomas Cole died at Catskill on February 11, 1848. The fourth highest peak in the Catskills is named Thomas Cole Mountain in his honor. Cedar Grove, also known as the Thomas Cole House, was declared a National Historic Site in 1999 and is now open to the public.

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