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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Susan Bednar

A Brief History of Thomas Cole

The Romantic Era

View on Catskill Creek

In a time of rapid expansion and growth in 18th century America came a movement of imagination and individualism - this era was known as the Romantic Period. Roughly from the years 1830-1870 came some of the most influential artists, thinkers, poets, and writers that are known to this day. A few notable names include William Blake, Robert Burns, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Walt Whitman. The works from the individuals of this era broke the mold society had previously set, laying the foundation for the art of written & visual storytelling to this day. Themes centralized around the ideas for equality, justice, and freedom for all, looking towards an imaginative future.

Photography was just being invented and was hardly even accessible by the end of this era, so it remained that visual art was important for documentation and social entertainment. The everyday person used escapism through books and paintings to think beyond their means and to believe in a brighter future. Romantic landscape painter Thomas Cole was one such artist that inspired the hearts of many, so much so that he remains one of the most prolific American Landscape Artists today.

Early Career

Portrait of Thomas Cole, 1838 by Asher B. Durand

In his early career, Cole found work as an engraver, teaching himself to paint on his own time. Inspired by the hand of European painters, he learned through studying books and other artists’ works. While working as a portrait artist in 1822, Cole quickly found a passion in capturing landscapes.

Cole’s explorations of New York State were funded after selling to George W. Bruen, who commissioned his travels to paint the Catskill Mountain House, the Kaaterskill Falls, the Ruins of Fort Putnam, and Views of Cold Spring. As his works were gradually featured in galleries and exhibitions, his connections in the art world grew. Eventually he gained a clientele of patrons, including both Robert Gilmor of Baltimore and Daniel Wadsworth of Hartford.

The Hudson River School & Influence on Edwin Church

Sunrise in the Catskills

Primarily working in oil, Cole captured an essence within his paintings that was evocative and allegorical. His subject matter often juxtaposed small, dark figures against expansive, moody landscapes. These escapist pieces were romantic at their core, allowing the audience to get lost in the depths, to almost feel as if they could reach out and be a part of the experience. The sensibility of these works inspired a movement in the art world that was later to be known as The Hudson River School, a group of artists who worked around the Hudson River Valley of New York. This term was later more specifically defined as an American Landscape painting created within the years of 1825 and 1875. Artists inspired by the works of Cole include Asher B. Durand and Frederic Edwin Church.

Edwin Church studied under Cole for a few years, developing his technical skills as an artist. The influence Cole has on Church’s work is more notable in his earlier works, before he fully developed his artistic voice.

A Developed Voice - Later Career

A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains

With notoriety from his influence on American Romantisticm and the founding of the Hudson River School, Cole settled into his life upstate. In 1827 he operated a studio space at The Farm called Cedar Grove in Catskill, New York. Within the decade he married Maria Bartow, and they began a family together. Cole continued to paint throughout the rest of his life, raising his family and enjoying the beauty of the Hudson Valley. On February 11, 1848 Cole passed away, leaving behind his artistically prodigious legacy.

The Cedar Grove was renamed ‘The Thomas Cole House’ and declared a National Historic Monument in 1999. The site is now open to the public. Visitors can book guided, private tours of the Main House and New Studio, and peruse the visitor center/Old Studio & Skywalk Pathway at their leisure. Take a self guided adventure and hike down the Hudson River School Art Trail. Special events, exhibitions, and Sunday Salons are seasonly featured on site, so be sure to check out their events calendar. Whatever your plans for the day, make sure to take a moment to step onto the historic porch overlooking the magnificent views of the mountains, the very scenery that inspired the artist himself.

We hope you enjoyed this historical dive into the life of American artist Thomas Cole. Planning a day trip? Check out our blog posts with our favorite recommendations for a local field trip to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Thank you for reading.

the {verdigreen} hotels team

Looking for somewhere to stay in the Hudson Valley? Check out one of our three upstate properties in Woodstock, Tannersville, and East Chatham.

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