biography of Thomas COLE (1801-1848)

Birth place: Bolton-le-Moor, Lancashire, England

Death place: Catskill, NY

Addresses: Catskill, NY (1836-on)

Profession: Landscape, portrait, and religious painter, writer

Studied: learned basics from portrait painter John Stein in Steubenville, OH, c.1820

Exhibited: PAFA, 1824-68, 1876; NAD, 1826-48; Brooklyn AA, 1864, 1872-81; Boston AC, 1878

Member: NA (founding member)

Work: Baltimore Mus. of Art; Boston Athenaeum; BMFA; Phila. Mus. Art; NMAA; Corcoran Gallery of Art; MMA; NYHS; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; Munson-Williams-Proctor Inst., Utica, NY; Cincinnati (OH) Mus.; Cleveland (OH) Mus.; Detroit Inst. of FA; Shelburne (VT) Mus.

Comments: One the great pioneers of the Hudson River School. He came to U.S. with his parents in 1818; spent 1818-19 in Philadelphia and on the island of Saint Eustacia in the West Indies. In 1819, he worked as a woodblock engraver in Steubenville, OH, and in 1820, he joined the staff of his sisters" Seminary for Young Ladies as a teacher of drawing and painting. Early in 1822, he began working as an itinerant portrait painter, traveling to Ohio towns such as Zanesville and Chillicothe. About this time he began painting Old Testament scenes (Ruth Gleaning," now lost) and making nature drawings. Cole joined his family in Pittsburgh in 1823 but only stayed briefly before setting off to hike from that city to Philadelphia. Once there, he showed a landscape at the annual PAFA exhibition (1824) which also included the landscapes of Thomas Doughty and Thomas Birch. Shortly after moving to NYC in 1825, Cole made the first of many trips to the Catskill mountains, sketching scenes that served as the basis for works such as "Kaaterskill Falls" (1826) and "The Clove, Catskills" (1827). These majestic and detailed depictions of the American wilderness quickly brought him recognition among other artists (including John Trumbull and Asher B. Durand), and patrons. But Cole also had a strong desire to move beyond the picturesque toward religious and allegorical landscapes, and began exploring such ideas in works like "Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" (1827, BMFA). From 1829-32, Cole was in Europe, studying the Old Masters and gaining particular inspiration from the works of Claude. He journeyed through England and Italy, painting a series of ideal landscapes with classical ruins in the background. On his return to NYC, it was his good fortune to meet the collector Luman Reed, who became interested in creating a private picture gallery with Cole"s works as the focus. It was for Reed that Cole created his first allegorical series "The Course of Empire" (1836, NYHS), which illustrated, through five panels, the rise and fall of a nation. Several years later, for patron Samuel Ward, Cole completed another allegorical series, "The Voyage of Life" (1840, Munson-Williams-Proctor Inst.) which poetically describes man's journey through life. He was prolific throughout the 1830s, producing other imaginative and allegorical landscapes ("Tinturn Abbey," Corcoran Gall.) as well as some based more on the real ("The Oxbow," 1836, MMA, and "Schroon Mountain," 1837, Cleveland Mus.). He visited Europe again in 1841-42, and on his return to America experienced a religious conversion and joined the Anglican Church; soon, more explicit religious themes emerged in his work. At the time of his death from pneumonia, Cole was working on another series, "The Cross and the World." Cole was also a Romantic writer who recorded his reverence for and responses to nature in detailed journals, poems, and an important essay "American Scenery" (which appeared in the American Monthly Magazine,1836). Signature note: Prior to 1826, Cole usually signed his wooden panels in two places as "T. Cole" and "T.C." and usually followed by the date. His early painitngs from 1824-29 are usually on wood panel. After his 1829-32 trip to Europe, most of his paintings were signed "T. Cole."

Sources: G&W; The earliest biography of Cole is Louis L. Noble's Life and Works of Thomas Cole, published shortly after the artist's death. Other sources include: French; Sweet, Hudson River School ; Cowdrey; NAD; Rutledge, PA; Rutledge, MHS; Cowdrey, AA & AAU; Albany Argus (semi-weekly), Feb.18, 1848; Graves Dictionary ; Karolik Cat.; Corcoran Gallery Cat.; Am. Inst. Cat., 1856; E.P. Lesley, "Some Clues to Thomas Cole"; E.E. Hale, "The Early Art of Thomas Cole"; Sydney Kellner, "The Beginnings of Landscape Painting in America"; E.P. Lesley, "Thomas Cole and the Romantic Sensibility"; and Evelyn Schmitt, "Two American Romantics-Thomans Cole and William Cullen Bryant." More recently, see Earl L. Powell, Thomas Cole (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1990; Elwood C. Parry, The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1988; Baigell, Dictionary; Campbell, New Hampshire Scenery, 36-37; Muller, Paintings and Drawings at the Shelburne Museum, 43 (w/repro.); The Boston AC; for an essay on his art materials, see A. Katlan American Artists Materials, Vol. II (Madison, CT: Sound View Press, p.491-499); Falk, PAFA, Vol. 2