Thursday, September 5, 2013

Course of Empire

Between 1833 and 1836 American artist Thomas Cole executed a series of five large paintings illustrating his conception of The Course of Empire.

From top to bottom, the five stages of that Course are 

The Savage State
The Arcadian or Pastoral State
The Consummation of the Empire

Cole lived from 1801 to 1848. He belonged to that worldwide generation whose imaginations were shaped by the novelistic poetry of Lord Byron and the poetic novels of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The European tour financed for Cole by American patrons seemed to top off the beaker of influence with exposure to 17th-century idealized landscapes by Claude and Poussin.

Before there were any native-grown painters with the technique and integrity of John Singer Sargent or Winslow Homer, an American artist like Thomas Cole did the best he could, slapping together mannerisms and tropes lifted almost at random from the scrap-heap of European models.