“Peculiar obsession”! Turning one’s gaze from the profitable arena of portrait painting, American artists at the end of the 18th century and in the early 19th century chose to leave the lucrative world of portrait painting in favor of nature’s powerful lure—Landscape! Landscape was a theme that was not on the radar of patrons but American painters turned their eyes to the picturesque which was a new obsession. Denis Diderot, in a salon review of 1767, insightfully wrote the following: “The great landscapist has his own peculiar obsession; it is a kind of sacred horror. His caverns are deep and gloomy; precipitous rocks threaten the sky…man passes through the domain of demons and gods.”
What are your thoughts of American landscape painter Thomas Cole who was fascinated by the American landscape which lay beyond the civilized borders of cities in the slowly vanishing American wilderness. Cole and a number of other American and European artists were captivated by the “wilds” of the frontier and hoped to instill a similar response in their audience. It was a hard sell but, nevertheless, these artists prevailed and left a body of work that is stunning.
Thomas Cole, Photograph of the Artist, 1846
Thomas Cole, The Oxbow of the Connecticut River, 1836
Thomas Cole, Course of Empire—Savage State, 1836
Thomas Cole, Course of Empire—Consummation, 1836
Thomas Cole, Home in the Woods, 1847