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Nature’s Nation

Thomas Cole, Essay on American Scenery (1835)

“Though American scenery is destitute of many of those circumstances


that give value to the European, still its has features, even glorious
ones, unknown to Europe. . .the most distinctive and perhaps the most
impressive, characteristic of American scenery is its wildness. . . . [I]n
civilized Europe the primitive features have long since been destroyed
or modified. . .And to this cultivated state our western world is fast
approaching; but nature is still predominant, and there are those who
regret that with the improvements of cultivation the sublimity of the
wilderness should pass away; for those scenes of solitude from which
the hand of nature has never been lifted, affect the mind with a more
deep toned emotion than that which the hand of man has touched.
Amid them the consequent associations are of God the creator--they
are his undefiled works, and the mind is cast into the contemplation of
eternal things.”
Thomas Cole, St. John in the Wilderness (1827)
Thomas Cole, View on the Catskill,
Early Autumn (1837)

Term: repoussoir

What is the spatial


organization? Foreground,
middleground, background
How is movement between
space achieved? Gently receding
planes? Sharp differences?

Claude Lorrain, Landscape with


Merchants (c. 1630)
Thomas Cole, View on the Catskill,
Early Autumn (1837)

“…to take a random view of nature


and compose it according to
recognizable aesthetic
conventions” ----Bryan Wolf

Picturesque:
What are the similarities and
Differences between these?
What makes them
“picturesque”?

Claude Lorrain, Landscape with


Merchants (c. 1630) FRENCH
“Claude glass”
Picturesque

Salvatore Rosa, River Landscape… (1657-58)


ITALIAN

John Trumbull, Niagara Falls from an Upper


Bank on the British Side (c1808)

Sublime
Edmund Burke

Thomas Cole, Distant View of Niagara Falls (1830)


1. What compositional choices
has Cole made that make this a
sublime painting? (style and
meaning)
2. What is fact, what is fiction?
How does this relate to Cole’s
ideas? How is landscape
tourism a factor? (context and
meaning)

Thomas Cole, The Falls of Kaaterskill (1826)


detail
Questions to ask about landscape:

1. What is factual and what is imaginary, and how are they blended?

2. What is the spatial organization? Foreground, middleground, background

3. How is movement between spaces achieved? Gently receding planes? Sharp


differences?

4. What is the visual balance? What predominates and where is it located?

5. How are light and shade used?

6. What kind of view is it? Panorama, birds-eye (aerial), small corner of nature?

7. What is the mood (and how is it communicated)? Melancholy, gloomy, bucolic,


pastoral, etc.

8. What are the associations with this site? Is it a site of an historical event?

9. What is the relationship of the sky to the rest of the composition?


Questions to ask about landscape (continued):

10. What time of day is represented?

11. Are there figures? Who are they and where are they located? What is their
scale in relationship to the rest of the landscape?

12. Is this a cultivated or uncultivated landscape?

13. Does the artist give the view boundaries? Are there framing trees, fences,
settlements?

14. What season is depicted?

15. Is the landscape pastoral, picturesque, sublime?


What has Cole changed when he
paints this scene again in 1843?
How can we explain this?
Providing historical context
opening of the Erie Canal – 1825.
patron, patronage

Thomas Cole, View on the Catskill,


Early Autumn (1837)

Term: “middle landscape”

Thomas Cole, River in the Catskills


(1843)
Thomas Cole, Sketch of how The Course of Empire would be hung in
Luman Reed’s mansion: Sunrise to sunset. Savage, Pastoral, Empire,
Destruction, Desolation
Quiz: Answer with a complete sentence for any credit
1. What are the two aesthetic categories of landscape that were theorized by Edmund Burke and
William Gilpin?

2. What landscape painting “school” is most closely associated with Thomas Cole?

3. Early in the 19th century, what was one of the first popular natural wonders that drew tourists and
landscape painters?

4. What is the name of the political party that underwent the greatest transformation with the
election of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency in 1800?

5. Which political party did Thomas Cole feel himself most closely aligned?

6. What was Cole’s theory of history?

7. Although Thomas Cole’s attitude towards industrialization remained steady, why did the attitude
of the old elite begin to shift after 1825?

8. According to Allan Wallach, what was Luman Reed’s primary satisfaction from being a patron for
Cole’s Course of Empire?

9. Provide the titles of two paintings from Cole’s Course of Empire series:

10. The still life was the expertise of which member of the Peale family?
Grading rubric for midterm
“Significance” questions: Each of the 7 questions was 4 points and
were graded according to the following rubric
Points Letter Grade Criteria

4 A Answer includes discussion of visual details and contextualizes their meaning and
historical importance. Answer reflects complete understanding of the material. Almost
perfect grammar and spelling.

3 B Student discusses visual detail and makes non-historical generalizations, or does not
discuss visual detail but demonstrates historical knowledge. Some of the facts are
misunderstood. Some spelling and grammatical errors.

2 C Student discusses some visual detail but does not explain why those details are
significant or contextualize them historically. Very little of the content has been
understood. Many spelling and grammatical errors.

1 D Student discusses some visual detail but not the significance. A small amount of content
is demonstrated. Sub-par spelling and grammar.

0 F No answer; Description of image only suggests that the student is looking at the image
for the first time during the test; Wrong answer; Answer is not written in sentences.
Thomas Cole, The Course of
Empire—The Savage State
Part I of a series of 5 paintings
commissioned by Luman Reed
(patron)

Key words: allegory, allegorical


landscape, Nicolas Poussin,
Claude Lorrain, repoussoir

Thomas Cole, The Course of


Empire—The Pastoral State
(1835-36)
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire—The
Consummation of Empire (1835-36)

Keywords: Feralism, Federalists,


Jacksonian Democracy, Jacksonian Era,
Allegory

Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire—The Destruction of Empire


Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire— Desolation (The 5th and last painting of the series)

Remember the first image of the


series? Thomas Cole, The Course
of Empire—The Savage State
Part I of a series of 5 paintings
http://www.explorethomascole.org/gallery/ite
ms/63
Thomas Cole, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, MA, after a storm--The Oxbow (1836)
Thomas Cole, detail from The Oxbow (1836)

Zoomable image link:


http://www.explorethomascole.org/gallery/items/49
Asher B. Durand, Kindred Spirits (1949)
Keywords: William Cullen Bryant (poet), National Academy of Art, Jonathan Sturges
Asher B. Durand, Forest in the Morning Light (c 1855) and detail of foreground

John Ruskin, Modern Painters (published 1843-1860), British, but wildly


popular among American artists
Asher Durand, Progress (1853)
The landscape “will be great in proportion as it declares the glory of God, by a representation of his works,
and not of the works of man.” Asher Durand in The Crayon (1855)
concepts: virgin landscape, progress, “internal improvements,” the course of history
George Innes, The Lackawanna Valley (c 1855)

Keywords: a “middle” ground, “machine in the garden”


Jasper Cropsey, Starrucca Viaduct, Pennsylvania, 1865

A view of the most famous bridge on the route of the New York and Erie Railroad, a
structure that was once touted at the Eighth Wonder of the World. The bridge was
gigantic--some 1,200 feet long and 114 high--and made of hewn stone
Jasper Cropsey, detail of Starrucca Viaduct (1865)
Robert Duncanson, View of Cincinnati, Ohio, from Covington, Kentucky (1858)
http://toolserver.org/~dschwen/iip/wip.php?f=Robert_Duncanson_-
_View_of_Cincinnati%2C_Ohio_from_Covington%2C_Kentucky.JPG
Frederic Edwin Church, New England Scenery (1851)
Frederick Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes (1859) and detail below

How does Church’s landscape indicate a change in the


concept of the sublime in the late eighteenth century?

Alexander von Humboldt, Cosmos


Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara (1857)
Oil on canvas, 42¼ x 90½ in
Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness (1860)
Oil on canvas, 40 x 64 in.
Emmanuel Leutze, Westward Ho, the Course of Empire Takes
its Way (1862)
Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky
Mountains, Landers Peak (1863)
Thomas Cole, Last of the Mohicans (1827)

Albert Bierstadt ,
Last of the Buffalo (1888)
Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872)
Fitz Hugh Lane, The Western
Shore with Norman’s Woe
(1862) Oil on canvas, 21½ x
35¼ in.

John F. Kensett: Beacon Rock,


Newport Harbor, (1857)
Oil on canvas, 22½ x 36 in.
John Kensett, Forty Steps (c 1864 )
Martin Johnson Heade,
Thunderstorm Over Narragansett Bay (1868)
Martin Johnson Heade, Newberryport
Meadows (1872-78)

Martin Johnson Heade, Cattleya orchid


and three hummingbirds (1871)
Sanford Gifford,
October in the Catskills (1880)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“Atmospheric Luminism”

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