Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings

By Mary Ann Calo | Go to book overview

placed by the progressive versions of historical development that accompanied technological, scientific, and political developments in Europe and America throughout these decades. 62 For some of the major artists who followed in Cole's wake--Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, and William Sonntag among them--Cole's prophetic voice, communicated in its least diluted form through The Course of Empire, furnished them early on with a critical example. A number of single and serial narrative paintings in the years following Cole's death effectively turned his pessimistic vision of history on its head. 63 Sonntag Progress of Civilization ( 1847: unlocated), Church New England Scenery ( 1851), and Durand Progress, or The Advance of Civilization ( 1853) neatly aligned the nation's grandest ambitions with the very structure of history itself as it unfolded upon the stage of New World nature. It was Cole's very authority as the father of a native landscape school that challenged the leading artists of the next generation to transform the bleak content of his ominous parable of empire and to reassert the persistence of nature's redemptive agency to the future of the republic. Such a transformation was necessary in order to sustain a belief in the providential--and republican--association between wilderness and national virtue that was the hallmark of Cole's art.


NOTES

Revised by the author from Prospects. Reprinted by permission of the author.

1.
J. G. Baldwin, Party Leaders: Sketches of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, John Randolph of Roanoke ( 1855; rept. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1861), p. 348.
2.
An example is Helen Weinberg, "An American Grail: An Iconographic Study of Thomas Cole's 'Titan's Goblet,'" [ Prospects 8: 261-280, ( 1983)], pp. 275 and 278, where Weinberg writes of Cole's "typically Jacksonian faith in American progress." With the exception of Alan Wallach, "Thomas Cole and the Aristocracy," Arts Magazine 56, no. 3 ( November 1981): 94-106, most studies neglect Cole's involvement in the social, political, and historical context that pressed so hard upon him in the 1830s, and from which he increasingly withdrew in the 1840s. Matthew Baigell and Allen Kaufman, in "Thomas Cole's 'The Oxbow': A Critique of American Civilization," Arts Magazine 55, no. 5 ( January 1981): 136-39, also touch upon Cole's anti-Jacksonian sentiments.
3.
New studies more sensitive to this dimension of landscape include Roger Stein, Susquehanna: Images of the Settled Landscape ( Binghamton, N.Y.: Roberson Center for the Arts and Sciences, 1981); and Franklin Kelly, Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape ( Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988). This turning of the scholarly tide is already well under way in the field of British landscape studies. See John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Landscape, 1730-1840 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); and David Solkin, Richard Wilson: The Landscape of Reaction ( London: Tate Gallery, 1982); and Ann Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology: The English Rustic Tradition, 1740-1860 ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).
4.
On Reed, see Wayne Craven, "Luman Reed, Patron: His Collection and Gallery," American Art Journal 12, no. 2 (Spring 1980): 40-59.
5.
On the distrust of the passions in Whig thought, see Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), ch. 3, esp. pp. 52-53.
6.
Cole's comment on Harrison's death appears in a letter to William Adams, dated April 8, 1841, cited by Wallach, "Cole and the Aristocracy," p. 98.
7.
Archives of American Art, Reel no. ALC1.
8.
On Jackson's fiscal policies and the Whig response, see Howe, The Political Culture of American Whigs, p. 139.
9.
Cited in Douglas Miller, The Birth of Modern America, 1820-1850 ( New York: Pegasus, 1970), p. 67.
10.
On the Depression of 1837, see Samuel Rezneck , "The Social History of an American Depression, 1837-1843,"

-73-

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