THOMAS COLE (1801-1848)
THOMAS COLE (1801-1848)
THOMAS COLE (1801-1848)
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THOMAS COLE (1801-1848)

View Near Catskill

THOMAS COLE (1801-1848)
View Near Catskill
signed and dated indistinctly 'Cole 1829' (lower right)—signed and dated again 'T Cole/1828' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
24 ¾ x 35 in. (62.9 x 88.9 cm.)
Painted in 1828-29.
The artist.
Stephen Van Rensselaer, New York, commissioned from the above, 1828-29.
Private collection, by descent from the above.
Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York, acquired from the above, 1986.
Acquired by the late owners from the above, 1988.
T. Cole, "List of Pictures Painted by Me," Thomas Cole Papers, New York State Library.
New-York Mirror, May 16, 1829, p. 354.
E.C. Parry III, The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination, Newark, Delaware, 1988, pp. 40, 93.
C. Robinson, Thomas Cole: Drawn to Nature, exhibition catalogue, Albany, New York, 1993, p. 63.
F. Kelly "Lake Winnepesaukee," in T.K. Groft, M.A. Mackay, Albany Institute of History and Art: 200 Years of Collecting, exhibition catalogue, Albany, New York, 1998, p. 82.
M.A. Erhardt, E. Broun, The Norma Lee and Martin Funger Art Collection, Lunenberg, Vermont, 1999, pp. 10-11, illustrated.
K.J. Myers, “Thomas Cole and the Popularization of Landscape Experience in the United States: 1825-1829,” in Marco Goldin ed., America!: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo, exhibition catalogue, Brescia, Italy, 2007, p. 73.
D.I. Spanagel, Dewitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York, Baltimore, Maryland, 2014, p. 248n9.
H.D. Peck, Thomas Cole's Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2019, pp. 38, 47, 54-62, 67, 82, 118, 145, figs. 2.7, 3.10-12, 4.18, illustrated.
New York, National Academy of Design, 4th Annual Exhibition, May 1829, no. 13.
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Views and Visions: American Landscape Before 1830, September 21, 1986-March 29, 1987, pp. 183, 185, 245, pl. 136, illustrated.
New York, Kennedy Galleries, Inc., Summits II: Outstanding American Paintings 1828-1985, April 18-May 9, 1987, n.p., no. 1, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Considered the founding father of American landscape painting, Thomas Cole was born in Lancashire, England in 1801 before immigrating with his family to Philadelphia. Cole left for New York in 1825 and embarked on an extended trip to the Catskill Mountains the next summer in 1826. In 1827 he moved to the village of Catskill, maintaining a studio within view of its mountain peaks, and it was there he first discovered Catskill Creek–a beloved vista to which he would return repeatedly. In the ensuing years, Cole’s remarkable depictions of the American wilderness would launch America’s first native art movement, the Hudson River School—a tradition of landscape painting that would dominate the first part of the nineteenth century. Painted during this significant period of early exploration, View Near Catskill is the second Catskill Creek painting Cole completed, and one of only two paintings left in private hands from this notable series of ten works. Moreover, its mastery of light and form illustrates not only Cole’s love and admiration for his new home, but also classic tenants of the Hudson River School in its romantic depiction of the American wilderness in light of an increasingly industrialized nation.

According to H. Daniel Peck, Cole’s Catskill Creek painting series begins with View Near the Village of Catskill (de Young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) painted in 1827, with the present work from 1828-29 being his second exploration of the subject. Eight other Catskill Creek works complete the series: Sunset View on Catskill (1833, New York Historical Society); View of Catskill Creek (circa 1833, Albany Institute of History and Art, New York); View on the Catskill – Early Autumn (1836-37, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); North Mountain and Catskill Creek (1838, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut); Sunset in the Catskills (1841, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts); Settlers Home in the Catskills (1842, Private collection); River in the Catskills (1843, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts) and Catskill Creek, N.Y. (1845, New-York Historical Society).

Notably, Catskill Creek was one of the only locations Cole painted repeatedly, demonstrating a distinct and unique sense of place. “That stretch of river, both along its shores and from nearby Jefferson Heights, was in Cole’s backyard. For him this was a landscape of home, literally the walk of a mile or two from Cedar Grove, and his attachment to it—expressed in his repeated renderings—is a deep source of the series’ coherence.” (Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2019, p. 146) Peck continues, “Shaping and reshaping the Catskill Creek landscape in repeated representation was for the artist a creative process in which he tried—over the course of eighteen years—to make himself at home, and indeed to make a home.” (Thomas Cole’s Refrain, p. 40). In the process and with his stature, Cole was thus simultaneously developing the nation’s own distinct sense of place and artistic identity.

Cole painted the present work from the plateau of Jefferson Heights, which is the same vantage point as in the de Young, Metropolitan Museum and MFA Boston examples. Towering in the painting is the Catskill Escarpment—notably Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop Mountain at center, with Kaaterskill Clove (not visible) separating South Mountain and the Catskill Mountain House at right. Nestled within the landscape is the Van Vechten farmhouse, a seventeenth-century stone structure built by Dutch settler Dirck Teunis Van Vechten during the colonial era. The farmhouse appears in a number of Cole’s Catskill Creek paintings and remains occupied by Van Vechten’s descendants today. Peck opines that the “the glimpses of valued sites and structures in these works do, in their repetition, give us a glimpse of Cole himself…Perhaps it was the part that asked viewers to look more closely, to really see.” (Thomas Cole’s Refrain, p. 149)

In the present work, Cole further develops his vision of the beloved vista through deliberate alterations in comparison to his first iteration of the scene, View Near the Village of Catskill, including: the substitution of smoke pillars from tanneries for one single spire from the Van Vechten farmhouse, the addition of a row of Lombardy poplars, the change in season implying fall tonalities and the pronunciation of South Mountain at right. “Never again in the series…would he so dramatically foreground and deeply shadow this mountain. In these various ways, View Near Catskill is more deliberately experimental, even playful, in his treatment of individual elements—especially in its inventions and substitutions—than was the earlier work.” (Thomas Cole’s Refrain, p. 61).

In the present composition, the dark tonalities of the shadowed foreground contrast sharply with a backdrop theatrically bathed in sunlight, illuminating the autumnal foliage and purple clouds sweeping just above the mountain peaks. Cole employs motifs, such as his classic blasted tree stump, to suggest the wilder, untamed side of this picturesque landscape. The youthful figure walking across the log grounds the composition in reality, while serving as a subtle reminder of man’s impact on the natural world. Yet, while railroad construction was present in Catskill, the artist notably leaves out overt signs of industrialization. Masha Turchinsky writes, “Cole depicted the creek as he wished it might look; his pastoral scenes were aesthetic responses to a mythic past, one that stood in contrast to the Catskill Creek of the 1830s, which had become the focus of intense industrialization.” (Thomas Cole’s Refrain, p. xi)

Indeed, View Near Catskill evokes both the beauty and power of nature, and continues to inspire awe within the modern viewer today. This masterful painting illustrates Matthew Baigell’s assertion: “Cole’s works are unique in American art because for the first time the viewer appears to be catapulted directly into the American wilderness. Never before had an American artist captured so completely the look and feel of raw nature as well as the apparent total indifference of nature to man’s presence or intentions.” (Thomas Cole, New York, 1981, p. 11)

The original owner of the present work, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, was a United States Congressman from New York and the President of the Albany Institute. Rensselaer met Cole through Daniel Wadsworth—the Connecticut collector who was one of Cole’s greatest patrons. In 1827 Van Rensselaer and his wife Cornelia Patterson commissioned Cole to paint View from Lake Winnipesaukee (1827, Albany Institute of Art, New York). The couple was so thrilled with Cole’s work they commissioned another, writing to Cole, “Mrs. R appears well pleased with it, and desires you to send a companion, one of your Catskill views of the same size & frame.” (as quoted in E. Parry, The Art of Thomas Cole, Newark, 1988, p. 80) As a result Cole completed View Near Catskill to serve as the pendant picture to Lake Winnipesaukee.

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