Tag: thomas cole

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life


Last week, I did a five-piece series on Thomas Cole’s The Course of EmpireThis week, I’ll give you another Thomas Cole series called The Voyage of Life, all four paintings done in 1842. But this week we’re doing things differently. I’ll show you all the paintings at once and give you some elements to compare. We’ll draw out this way the thinking put into the conventions of painting. (You can right-click on each to see the full-size versions.)


Thomas Cole, Desolation


We’ve come to the end of the series. We’ve gone allegorically from dawn to dusk in five pictures. For the first time, there are no people in the picture. This is the ultimate in man’s uncanny power of motion, or freedom. On the other hand, you could say this is the course of nature–all living beings, strive as they might to keep living, must eventually die.

Thomas Cole, Destruction


In this fourth painting in the series, we see the same recognizable city a second time. Cole signed his name in both, with the year he painted these scenes. Consummation is thus followed by destruction. The same white marble edifices redolent of unimaginable wealth are now the scene of war and the defenders are losing. Again, the beautified imperial precincts are thronged–this time the boats are bringing in not loot, but looters. We recall the old phrase, all roads lead to Rome. Well, roads can be traveled both ways.

Thomas Cole, Consummation of Empire


Now, we come to the central painting in the series, titled simply Consummation. This would seem to mean that we now see what empire is for. We saw freedom in the first painting, associated with savagery. We see greatness now, as though it were the greatest flowering or fruit of the seed we saw planted there.

Thomas Cole, The Pastoral State


The second painting in the series is unique. It is Arcadia, the earthly paradise, in the Greek mode. Notice that nature is without strife in this painting. Our arts give us new powers–nature will toil for us. Hence, horse-riding and sailing boats are about human beings using natural motions for their own ends. The only evidence of natural strife comes in small details–rams butting heads, presumably during mating season. That and an odd, isolated man plowing, but with an ox. We see new arts arise–taming and shepherding animals. And yet, this is an apolitical situation. We only see one glint of metal–a strange character, obviously a soldier, but alone, resting.

Thomas Cole, The Savage State


The joke about Americans is that they love nature almost as much as conquest of nature. This is the first of five posts on a five-painting series by Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire, that will address that joke. Thomas Cole famously founded the Hudson River School — named for the painters’ landscapes of the Hudson River Valley. They made large canvasses arranging and detailing the beauty of nature before man. As Locke says, in the beginning the whole world was America. The art is somewhat Romantic and the Hudson School thrived into the late 19th century, past Cole’s early death, because Americans loved it. They do so yet, and except for craft, it’s hard to say how the canvasses are any different to pictures or video of, say, the Grand Canyon. You’d have to argue about taste…