Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School [VIDEO]

 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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