placed by the progressive versions of historical
development that accompanied technological,
scientific, and political developments in Europe
and America throughout these decades.
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.
Revised by the author from Prospects. Reprinted by
permission of the author.
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.
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
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.
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).
On Reed, see
Wayne Craven, "Luman Reed, Patron: His Collection and Gallery," American Art Journal 12, no. 2 (Spring 1980): 40-59.
On the distrust of the passions in Whig thought,
Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the
American Whigs ( Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1979), ch. 3, esp. pp. 52-53.
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.
Archives of American Art, Reel no. ALC1.
On Jackson's fiscal policies and the Whig response, see
Howe, The Political Culture of American
Whigs, p. 139.
Douglas Miller, The Birth of Modern
America, 1820-1850 ( New York: Pegasus, 1970), p. 67.
On the Depression of 1837, see Samuel Rezneck
, "The Social History of an American Depression, 1837-1843,"