Landscape Painting in America: Things, Not Ideas


Once Cole needed a painting very badly to participate in an exhibition. Because he was in a hurry, he went to the top of Mount Holy Oak and painted a picture of a real place. The sky is not a Salvator Rosa formula. People thought the sky looked just like a real front moving through the area.

The picture became one of the two most famous paintings of his whole career, but Cole was not happy. He later wrote that because of the low tastes of the American people, he was not able to become the great painter that he should have been. They wanted things, he said, representations of real places, not ideas, creatively inspired imaginary places.

Cole is in the painting to the left and below the closed umbrella sticking up in the air.

Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836, Metropolitan Museum of Art