Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire

Forces of nature

This summer, the National Gallery is hosting the first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of 19th-century American landscape artist, Thomas Cole. Famous in the US for his paintings focused on the power and drama of nature, this is a rare opportunity to view his works alongside the masterpieces of European landscape painting that inspired him.

Born in Lancashire in 1801, Cole emigrated to America as a young man. A self-taught artist, he learnt his skills by studying the works of other painters. Cole began his professional career as an engraver and portrait artist – until his initial landscape paintings began to attract notice. In the 1820s, Cole undertook a study trip to London, where he met Constable and Turner, whose romantic and experimental styles would greatly influence his later work. From London, Cole travelled to Italy to deepen his understanding of European painting styles, before returning to New York.

Over the following decade, Cole painted his masterpieces: dramatic images of the American wilderness on an epic scale, and lavish depictions of the Garden of Eden. His most famous piece, The Course of Empire, is an allegorical cycle of imaginary works warning of the dangers of human societies growing beyond their natural resources.

This will be the first time many of these paintings will be seen outside of the US, in this landmark exhibition held in partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Cole depicted the unspoilt beauty of the American landscape but he also prophesied the dangers of an encroaching urban and industrialised society on it. His concerns remain highly topical today.

Dr. Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery

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11 June – 7 October 2018


The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square