A Love of the Land

Thomas Cole’s Re­frain: The Paint­ings of Catskill Creek chron­i­cles the artist’s nearly two-decade in­fat­u­a­tion with the famed New York landscape

American Fine Art Magazine - - Contents - By Rochelle Bel­sito

Thomas Cole’s Re­frain:the Paint­ings of Catskill Creek chron­i­cles the artist’s nearly two-decade in­fat­u­a­tion with the famed Newyork landscape

Thomas Cole’s ar­rival in Catskill, New York, was per­haps the most piv­otal mo­ment in the young artist’s life. Only 24 years old, the English-born Cole likely did not know it at the time, but the rural town would be­come his life’s work and so­lid­ify his name within American art his­tory as the founder of the Hud­son River School.as the story goes, in the au­tumn of 1825, Cole took a steamship up the Hud­son River with one of the stops be­ing the Catskill land­ing. He hiked into the Catskill Moun­tains and for the first time sketched his muse. On his re­turn to Newyork City, he turned the sketches into paint­ings that are thought to be the first of the moun­tain­ous area that was also chron­i­cled in Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing’s novel Rip Van Win­kle in 1819.

Cole soon headed back to Catskill and be­gan fur­ther ex­plor­ing the moun­tains and its nearby ar­eas.around 1827 he dis­cov­ered Catskill Creek, a lo­ca­tion within the moun­tains that had the wa­ter­way and high peaks all around. For 18 years, Cole re­turned to this cor­ner of the world—some could ar­gue his cor­ner of the world—and found con­tin­ual in­spi­ra­tion for his art.

This par­tic­u­lar landscape within Cole’s oeu­vre struck a chord for H. Daniel Peck, John Guy Vas­sar Jr. Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of English at­vas­sar Col­lege.about three years ago, Peck com­pleted the man­u­script for his book Thomas Cole’s Re­frain:the Paint­ings of Catskill Creek and in 2019 it was pub­lished by Three Hills, an im­print of Cor­nell Univer­sity Press. Peck ar­gues that, although they were cre­ated over the span of nearly two decades, Cole’s Catskill Creek paint­ings can be seen as a se­ries sim­i­lar to his major al­le­gor­i­cal works, such as the The Voyage of Life. Af­ter the man­u­script was first fin­ished, the Thomas Cole Na­tional His­toric Site caught wind of Peck’s pro­ject and asked him to cu­rate an ex­hi­bi­tion based on th­ese paint­ings.

The show, which shares the same name as Peck’s book, opened May 4 and will hang through Novem­ber 3. In­cluded are 12 orig­i­nal oil paint­ings by the artist, 10 Catskill works and two land­scapes high­light­ing Cole’s dy­namic tech­nique and style. Many of the pieces are cu­rated from other in­sti­tu­tions and pri­vate col­lec­tions.

The ear­li­est Catskill Creek paint­ing in the ex­hi­bi­tion is the sec­ond one Cole painted of the landscape, View Near Catskill. “the very first work of Catskill Creek he com­pleted in 1827 is a beau­ti­ful spring­time or summer scene, but [this next one] he paints an au­tum­nal scene, and it’s a very sim­i­lar landscape,” says Peck. “he goes off on his first ex­tended Euro­pean tour from 1829 to 1832, and re­mark­ably when he comes back he starts paint­ing Catskill creek again.”

Cole com­pleted around four more works of the re­gion dur­ing the next decade, be­fore head­ing back to Europe again in the early 1840s. this time while he was in Europe, Cole could not shake the American landscape that had cap­ti­vated him. “i fig­ured out he painted one [of his Catskill works] in Rome, Italy,” says Peck. “I dis­cov­ered this be­cause I dis­cov­ered the sketch for the paint­ing was dated Rome 1842.” The work, Set­tler’s Home in the Catskills, is unique be­cause rather than be­ing a spe­cific ren­der­ing of the place it is from Cole’s mem­ory. “I had a car­tog­ra­pher for the book pro­ject and he was able to lo­cate van­tage points, but when it came to this one he couldn’t find ex­actly where Cole was stand­ing,” says Peck. “it had all the el­e­ments, all the same el­e­ments, but the car­tog­ra­pher threw up his hands with

this one. So, it’s an imag­ined view­point and very fan­ci­ful in a way, and it goes to show Cole’s imag­i­na­tion at work and his de­vel­op­ment of his beau­ti­ful landscape.” Back in the U.S., Cole again re­turned to the wa­ter­way and com­pleted sev­eral more works in­clud­ing his fi­nal image, Catskill Creek, New York, three years be­fore his death.along with Cole’s paint­ings, the ex­hi­bi­tion will dis­play three pieces of Catskill Creek by Asher B. Du­rand, Frederic Ed­win Church and Charles Her­bert Moore, high­light­ing the con­tin­u­ing legacy of the artist and the place.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848), View Near Catskill, 1828-29. Oil on wood panel, 24¼ x 33¾ in. Pri­vate collection.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Catskill Creek, New York, 1845. Oil on can­vas, 26½ x 36 in. New-york His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, The Robert L. Stu­art Collection, gift of his widow Mrs. Mary Stu­art, S-157.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Set­tler’s Home in the Catskills, 1842. Oil on can­vas, 2215/16 x 28½ in. Pri­vate collection.

Asher B. Du­rand (1796-1886), Catskill Moun­tains, 1830. Oil on can­vas, 13¾ x 18 in. Albany In­sti­tute of His­tory and Art, gift of Miss Jane E. Rosell, 1987.20.2.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848), North Moun­tain and Catskill Creek, 1838. Oil on can­vas, 267/16 x 367/16 in. Yale Univer­sity Art Gallery, gift of Anne Os­born Pren­tice, 1981.56.

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