Thomas Cole (American born England, 1801–1848),
Stony Gap, Kaaterskill Clove
oil on panel, 17 7/8 x 25 3/8 in.; 45.4 x 64.45 cm
Mr. and Mrs. Edwin S. Miller Bequest Fund, 1951.661
Thomas Cole trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before settling in New York City in 1825. Hoping to encourage a distinctive American aesthetic, Cole endorsed the formation of the National Academy of Design and, after his first visit to the Catskills in 1825, became the nominal leader of America’s first Anglo-European art movement: the Hudson River School. The movement sought a national artistic expression in which realism and romanticism were blended to represent America as it grew from a frontier society to an industrailized state. In later years, Cole traveled abroad to hone his skills and expand his repertoire; grand history scenes and biblical subjects set against sublime nature began to dominate his oeuvre.
In Stony Gap, Kaaterskill Clove, mountains loom in the distance, a shaft of sunlight illuminates a group of trees whose branches overhang the water. In the left foreground the gnarled, blasted trees are reminders of death amidst the lushness of the forest.
The "American-ness" of Cole's canvases was another important aspect of his success. His patrons wanted nationalistic pictures that provided associations not present in a seemingly esoteric and foreign European art. Cole's landscapes also provided a visible manifestation of God, acceptable to Protestant Americans.