Archive for Hudson River School

Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire” (1834-36) [GUIDE]

Posted in Art, Guides, Romantic with tags , , on February 25, 2012 by Nell

The Course of Empire

 Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire (1834-36) is a series of five allegorical paintings depicting the rise and fall of a fantastical civilization.

Cole envisions a prehistoric age in which nature dominates man (The Savage State); an ancient utopia in which people live in balance with nature (The Pastoral State); an era of decadence (Consummation); war and chaos (Destruction); and finally, an uninhabited world in which the ruins of mankind are once again overtaken by nature (Desolation).


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Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School [VIDEO]

Posted in Art, Romantic, Videos with tags , on February 25, 2012 by Nell

 Guide: Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was an English-born American painter and founder of the Hudson River School—a group of artists in the mid-19th century known for their paintings depicting American scenery and allegorical landscapes. These artists formed an American artistic identity that was connected to, yet distinct from, the European tradition.

The Course of Empire (1834-36) is arguably Cole’s magnum opus and most well-known work. Visit The Course of Empire: Narrative and Context to get an overview of the historical and intellectual currents running through this suite of paintings, then examine each of the five paintings in detail at The Course of Empire: The Paintings.

The Hudson River Valley

Cole and his contemporaries were inspired by the Hudson River Valley region and the scenery they found in the Catskill Mountains; an area that was popular amongst tourists in New York for hiking and sightseeing. Paintings of scenery in this region form a large part of the output of the Hudson River School.

Learn More:

Please note that the below links will take you outside of this website.

  • The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision, by Linda S. Ferber (interviewed in the above videos). A survey of the artists of the Hudson River School, including Cole, and with a focus on the works in the outstanding collection of the New-York Historical Society.
  • Explore Thomas Cole. An online gallery with interactive curated guides to Cole’s paintings, including The Course of Empire.
  • The Thomas Cole National Historic Site. A guide to visiting Thomas Cole’s former home in Catskill, NY, and sites in the area of interest to the Hudson River School painters.

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The Course of Empire: Narrative and Context [VIDEO]

Posted in Art, Romantic, Videos with tags , , on February 25, 2012 by Nell

 Guide: Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”

Scroll below to explore the larger contexts behind Cole’s artistry and the story in The Course of Empire, then examine each of the five paintings in detail.

The Landscape

Thomas Cole is considered one of the first great American landscape painters, and these five paintings are a virtuosic display. His work was strongly influenced by the Romantic ideal of the Sublime wilderness, as well as older European painters such as Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin.

Landscape and its artistic representation was important for America’s national identity in the 19th century, and the fate of the wilderness had spiritual and political resonance for Cole and like-minded artists and intellectuals.

The Story

The five paintings are set in the same place during progressive times of day, each with different moods and weather conditions (the first painting depicts a tumultous cloudscape at dawn; the final painting is tranquil twilight). Cole imbues each view of this landscape with its own emotional state.

Cole’s imaginary civilization looks and acts like an ancient Greek or Roman society, from the wise philosopher sketching geometric diagrams in the dirt in The Pastoral State to the monumental statue of a discus-throwing gladiator in Destruction.

The Allegory

There is the moral of all human tales;
‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory – when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page…

Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818)

Empire depicts the complete life cycle of a civilization. In this, Cole was influenced by cyclical theories of history well known to intellectuals in Cole’s time, as well as global and national current events.

The generic Classical setting of Cole’s story lends it a sense of timelessness. The paintings are a universal parable that can be applied to any civilization, and it was seen in the light of current events and trends in Cole’s own time. It can be understood just as easily, and be as powerful, today.


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The Course of Empire: The Paintings [VIDEO]

Posted in Art, Romantic, Videos with tags , , on February 25, 2012 by Nell

 Guide: Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”

Linda S. Ferber, Vice President and Senior Art Historian at the New-York Historical Society, acts as a guide through Cole’s suite of five paintings in the videos below.

The Savage State (1834)

The Pastoral State (1834)

The Consummation of Empire (1836)

The Destruction of Empire(1836)

Desolation (1836)

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