Scholar Will Explore Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire Series and How it Embodies the Artist’s Concern for the Future of the United States

  • CATSKILL, New York
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  • November 05, 2019

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Thomas Cole (1801-1848) The Savage State, The Course of Empire, 1834.
New-York Historical Society

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY, announced its 14th Annual Raymond Beecher Lecture will be delivered by Alan Wallach, Ph.D, Ralph H. Wark Professor of Art and Art History and Professor of American Studies Emeritus, College of William & Mary. The lecture entitled, “What’s In a Name? Interpreting Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire,” will explore Cole’s epic series of paintings The Course of Empire, 1835-1836, and how it embodies the artist’s concern for the future of the United States. The lecture will take place on Sunday, November 24 at 2 pm in Thomas Cole’s New Studio at the Thomas Cole Site in Catskill, New York.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) Destruction, The Course of Empire., 1836.
New-York Historical Society

The Course of Empire is a series of five large-scale paintings in which Cole depicted the rise and fall of a civilization. The paintings are: The Savage State, The Arcadian State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction and Desolation. The series is in the collection of The New-York Historical Society, which notes that Thomas Cole’s distinctly pessimistic vision differed from that of many of his American peers, who thought that the future of the United States was limitless.

Scholars have long puzzled over the series, but in recent decades much has been learned about what motivated Cole and how he was influenced by the British poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) and British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), who like Cole were fascinated by the theme of the rise and fall of empire. Dr. Wallach will illuminate what Cole intended the series to mean at a time when the United States was still a young nation facing tumultuous times not unlike today. Tickets can be purchased in advance at and as available at the lecture for $10 for members and $12 general admission.   

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) Desolation, The Course of Empire., 1836.
New-York Historical Society

Dr. Wallach is a specialist in the art of Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School. Dr. Wallach received his doctorate in art history from Columbia University, New York. He co-curated the major exhibition “Thomas Cole: Landscape into History” (1994-95) that was presented at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Brooklyn Museum. Dr. Wallach was author of the principal essay in the accompanying book published by Yale University Press and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Dr. Wallach is the author of Exhibiting Contradiction: Essays on the Art Museum in the United States (1998), co-editor of Transatlantic Romanticism (2015), and his writing has appeared in The Art Bulletin, American Art, Art History, Art in America, Artforum, Harvard Design Magazine, etc.

Ongoing Exhibitions in the Thomas Cole Site’s 1815 Main House

+ The Parlors, an immersive experience with the artist’s own decorative painting on the walls and multimedia installations that convey his passionate concern for the environment.

+ Mind Upon Nature: Thomas Cole’s Creative Process, an exhibition featuring Cole’s original paintings, sketches, palettes, and other unique objects.

Special Exhibition in the Thomas Cole Site’s 1815 Main House

+ SHI GUORUI: Ab/Sense-Pre-Sense (through December 1), a contemporary exhibition of large-scale landscape photographs inspired by Thomas Cole and created using the camera obscura process by international artist Shi Guorui.

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