Modern Landscapes

Thomas Cole (American, Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, England 1801 - 1848 Catskill, New York)
Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill), 1825
Signed, bottom, slightly left of center: T Cole.
Oil on canvas
27 x 33 3/4 in. (68.6 x 85.8 cm)
Gift of Charles F. Olney, 1904
AMAM 1904.1183

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Painted from a sketch done on Cole's first trip into the Catskills, Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) is one of three works that catapulted the young artist into a position of contemporary fame and profound influence on future American painting. The fresh naturalism of these paintings served as harbinger of an indigenous, national painting style - the Hudson River School - that celebrated the American wilderness and proclaimed it a divine "New World."

Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) was one of three landscapes by Cole exhibited in late October or early November, 1825, at William Coleman's frame shop in New York City. The paintings, each priced at $25, attracted the notice of three major figures in the American art world. Colonel John Trumbull (1756-1843), elder statesman of American art and president of the Academy of Fine Arts, first bought Kaaterskill Upper Fall, Catskill Mountains (present location unknown). He then reported his discovery to the writer and artist William Dunlap (1766-1839), who bought Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) (now at Oberlin), and to the artist Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), who purchased the View of Fort Putnam (present location unknown). All three paintings were exhibited at the New York American Academy of Fine Arts later in the fall, and Dunlap launched Cole's career with articles lauding his self-taught painting style and technique, the inspired product of his enterprising youth and "Americanness."1

The emergence of this young American landscape painter coincided almost exactly with the official opening of the Erie Canal across upstate New York. The nationalistic fervor surrounding this event helped foster the mythic perception of Cole as the "American Adam" of landscape painting.2

Cole's seminal painting is the culmination of a long tradition of picturesque and topographical landscapes in America.3 Yet it is relatively free of conventions, not only in its formal elements but also in its iconography. Some of its freshness may be attributed to Cole's itinerant experiences in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as to his intermittent and uneven formal training. his unsophisticated, emotional response to this particular mountain lake, in which he perceived a "singular effect,"4 encapsulates Cole's lifelong view that, in this divinely-revealed New World, "all nature... is new to art."5

Nevertheless, Cole's presentation of this wilderness landscape, "the truly American forest,"6 was tempered by his middle-class upbringing in Lancashire,7 his study of earlier paintings, and his own innate gifts, the latter evident in both the soft, lyrical color that suffuses Lake with Dead Trees and in the inventive foreground iconography. The painting also reveals Cole's recent, careful study of William Oram's Precepts and Observations on the Art of Colouring in Landscape Painting (London, 1810),8 whose compositional guidelines and color theories are particularly evident in the Oberlin painting and its development from the artist's initial preparatory pencil sketch.9

Although an unidentified reviewer commented in 1825 that the two deer "might have been omitted," as they detracted from a foreground that "has great beauties, but is not so perfect,"10 Kenneth Myers has recently argued that they are part of a sophisticated iconographic scheme.11 He suggests that Cole intended Lake with Dead Trees as a pendant to Kaaterskill Upper Fall, Catskill Mountains (bought by Trumbull in 1825). Although the latter work is now lost, it is known via a replica, Kaaterskill Falls, which Cole painted in 1826 for Daniel Wadsworth.12 The pendants both represent what was actually a settled mountain area as wilderness, with the dead trees in the Oberlin painting perhaps alluding to the effects of lumbering and tourism. And both paintings represent the passage of time through cloud movement, foliage color, and light, while the transition from death to life can be seen in the barren tree trunks at the far left of Lake with Dead Trees , and in the deer moving towards the right and towards the pendant Kaaterskill Falls, with its falling water and receding storm clouds. In Myers's interpretation the placement of the iconographic elements leads the viewer from contemplation of a beautiful, if threatened, wilderness to participation in a sublime vision.

While still a relatively naturalistic landscape, Lake with Dead Trees signals the beginning of Cole's lifelong preoccupation with infusing his compositions with literary, religious, or other symbolic meanings. Cole's paintings, and specifically the formal and iconographic ideas represented in Lake with Dead Trees, were crucial to the development of the Hudson River school, which included such artists as Frederic E. Church, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Thomas , Asher B. Durand, and John Frederick Kensett.

J. Weidman

Biography
Born in Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, England, on 1 February 1801, Cole emigrated with his parents to Philadelphia in 1818. Cole remained in Philadelphia, working as an engraver's assistant, when his family moved to Steubenville, Ohio, later that same year. In May and June 1819, he traveled to the West Indies, and joined his family that fall in Steubenville. Cole lived and traveled in Ohio until the spring of 1823, then joined his family in Pittsburgh, where they had moved earlier that year. By November 1823, Cole was back in Philadelphia, where he drew from casts and old master and American landscape paintings (both originals and copies) at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, studying work by such artists as Salvator Rosa and Thomas Doughty. In April 1825, Cole moved to New York City, and in late summer took his first sketching trip up the Hudson to the Catskills. From then until his death, he traveled and lived in New York State (the town of Catskill in particular) and New England, except for several trips to England, France, and Italy (1829-32 and 1841-42). He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1834. After becoming seriously ill in early February 1848, he died at Catskill on the 11th, probably of pleurisy.

Cole is generally regarded as the first great American landscape painter. He was the first artist to paint and publicly exhibit scenes of the Catskill Mountains and the Mountain House resort area, and remains the most influential artist in that region. Cole was also a founding member of the National Academy of Design (1826) and the teacher of Frederic E. Church..

General References
Dunlap, William. History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States. Vol. 2, New York, 1834, pp. 350-67 (2d ed., edited by Frank W. Bayley and Charles E. Goodspeed, vol. 3, Boston, 1918, pp. 138-59; 3d ed., edited by Alexander Wyckoff, vol. 3, New York, 1965, pp. 138-59).

Noble, Louis L. The Course of Empire, Voyage of Life, and Other Pictures of Thomas Cole, N.A. with Selections from his Letters and Miscellaneous Writings.... New York, 1853 (2nd ed., edited by Elliot S. Vesell, Cambridge, 1964).

Tuckerman, Henry T. Book of the Artists: American Artistic Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists. New York, 1867, pp. 223-32.

Wallach, Alan. "The Ideal American Artist and the Dissenting Tradition: A Study of Thomas Cole's Popular Reputation." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1973.

Cole, Thomas. The Collected Essays and Prose Sketches. Edited by Marshall B. Tymn. St. Paul, Minn., 1980.

Parry, Ellwood C. III. The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination. Newark, 1988.

Truettner, William H., and Alan Wallach. Thomas Cole: Landscape Into History. Exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., 1994.

Provenance
Sold by Thomas Cole at William A. Coleman’s Shop, New York (1825)

Coll. William Dunlap, New York (1825)

Coll. Philip Hone (died 1851), New York

His sale, New York (Ludlow’s), 28 April 1852, lot no. 259 as “Still Lake. Catskill Mountains”

Coll. Charles F. Olney, Cleveland, by whom given in 1904

Exhibitions
New York, William A. Coleman's shop, 1825. October-November. No cat.

New York, American Academy of Fine Arts, 1825. Late fall. No cat.

New York, Stuyvesant Institute, 1838. Exhibition of Select Paintings by Modern Artists, Principally American, and Living. 19 November - mid-December. Cat. no. 76, as "Hill Lake, Catskill Mountains."

New York, American Art-Union, 1848. Exhibition of the Paintings of the Late Thomas Cole. March. Cat. no. 72.

Columbus, Mo., Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, 1950. October - November. No cat.

Baltimore Museum of Art, 1965. Thomas Cole: Paintings by an American Romanticist. 26 January - 28 February. Cat. no. 1

Rochester, N.Y., Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1969. Thomas Cole . 14 February - 23 March (also shown at Utica, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute; Albany Institute of History and Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art). Cat. no. 2.

Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum, 1973. A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land. 23 September - 28 October. Cat. no. 123.

Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, 1975. Academy: The Academic Tradition in American Art. 6 June - 1 September. Cat. no. 80.

Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, 1985. American Artists Abroad: The European Experience in the 19th Century. 2 June - 2 September. No cat.

Yonkers, The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, 1988. The Catskills: Painters, Writers, and Tourists in the Mountains, 1820-1895. 28 February - 19 June (also shown at Rochester, The Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum; Albany, Institute of History and Art; Syracuse, N.Y., Everson Museum of Art). No cat.

Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, 1994. Thomas Cole: Landscape Into History. 18 March - 7 August (also shown at Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum; The Brooklyn Museum). Unnumbered cat.

Literature
Cole, Thomas. "List and Explanation of the Sketches." In Notebook, 1825, p. 31, as "No 20 Mountain Lake Catskill - very singular effect - ." The Detroit Institute of Arts, inv. 39.558b.

Trumbull, John. Letter to Robert Gilmor, Jr. 14 November 1825. Deere Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

"American" [William Dunlap] [untitled article]. The New-York Evening Post , 22 November 1825, p. 2, col. 5.

Dunlap, William. "Another American Genius." New-York Literary Gazette, 10 December 1825, pp. 219-20.

"A Review of the Gallery of the American Academy of Fine Arts, as Now Opened for the Exhibition of Dunlap's Painting of 'Death on the Pale Horse.'" New-York Review and Atheneum Magazine 2 (December 1825), p. 77, as "A Lake scene on the Kaatskill Mountain," and (January 1826), p. 153.

"Christmas Amusements." New-York Mirror (December 1825), p. 175.

Cole, Thomas. "List of Pictures Painted in New York, 1825-1826." In Writing Book No. 1, 1826, as "7. D & - Lake with Dead Trees Dunlap 25." The Detroit Institute of Arts, inv. 39.558a.

Gilmor, Jr., Robert. Letter to Thomas Cole. 1 August 1826. Manuscript and History Division, New York State Library, Albany.

Dunlap, William. History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States. Vol. 2. New York, 1834, pp. 359-60 and 463 (the latter as Philip Hone Collection, "12. The Still Lake-Catskill Mountain") (2d ed., edited by Frank W. Bayley and Charles E. Goodspeed, vol. 3, Boston, 1918, pp. 149-50 and 277; 3d ed., edited by Alexander Wyckoff, vol. 3, New York, 1965, pp. 149-50 and 277).

Catalogue, Descriptive, Biographical and Historical, of the Exhibition of Select Paintings by Modern Artists, Principally American, and Living.... Exh. cat., Stuyvesant Institute, New York, 1838. Cat. no. 76, as "Hill Lake, Catskill Mountains."

Exhibition of the Paintings of the Late Thomas Cole.... Exh. cat., American Art-Union, New York, 1848, cat. no. 72.

Bryant, William Cullen. A Funeral Oration, Occasioned by the Death of Thomas Cole, Delivered Before the National Academy of Design, New York, May 4, 1848. New York and Philadelphia, 1848, p. 10.

Noble, Louis L. The Course of Empire, Voyage of Life, and Other Pictures of Thomas Cole, N.A. with Selections from his Letters and Miscellaneous Writings.... New York, 1853, pp. 57 and 201 (2d ed., edited by Elliot S. Vesell, Cambridge, 1964, pp. 35 and 148).

Greene, George Washington. Biographical Sketches. New York, 1860, p. 92.

Rockwell, Charles. The Catskill Mountains and the Region Around. Their Scenery, Legends, and History; with Sketches in Prose and Verse, by Cooper, Irving, Bryant, Cole, and Others. New York, 1867, p. 281.

The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851. Edited by Allan Nevins. Vol. 2. New York, 1927, p. 838.

King, Hazel B. "American Artists Discover America." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 3, no. 1 (February 1946), pp. 8-9, 17, cat. no. 11, as "Catskill Lake."

Hawes, Louis. "A Sketchbook by Thomas Cole." Record of the Art Museum Princeton University 15, no. 1 (1956), p. 3.

Lawall, David B. "Note on the Date of Catskill Lake by Thomas Cole, N.A." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 13, no. 3 (1956), pp. 165-67.

Baltimore Museum of Art. Thomas Cole: Paintings by an American Romanticist. Exh. checklist with comments, Baltimore, 1965.

Van Zandt, Roland. The Catskill Mountain House. New Brunswick, 1966, pp. 118-21.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, Ohio, 1967, pp. 36-37, fig. 153.

Merritt, Howard S. "'A Wild Scene' Genesis of a Painting: Preface." In The Baltimore Museum of Art Annual II: Studies on Thomas Cole, An American Romanticist (1967), pp. 10, 11, and 43.

Merritt, Howard S. Thomas Cole. Exh. cat., Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.,1969, p. 21, cat. no. 2.

Flexner, James Thomas. Nineteenth Century American Painting. New York, 1970, p. 52.

Heiderstadt, Dorothy. Painters of America. New York, 1970, pp. 43-44.

Riordan, John C. "Thomas Cole: A Case Study of the Painter-Poet Theory of Art in American Painting from 1825-1850." Ph.D. diss., Syracuse University, 1970, pp. 2, 3, 54, 357, and 560.

Gussow, Alan. A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land. New York, 1971, p. 37.

Wallach, Alan. "The Ideal American Artist and the Dissenting Tradition: A Study of Thomas Cole's Popular Reputation." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1973, pp. iv, 19, and 188.

Gussow, Alan. A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land. Exh. cat., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1973, vol. 2, p. 58, cat. no. 123.

Fink, Lois Marie, and Joshua C. Taylor. Academy: The Academic Tradition in American Art . Exh. cat., National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C., 1975, p. 189, cat. no. 80.

Yasuna, Edward Carl. "The Power of the Lord in the Howling Wilderness: The Achievement of Thomas Cole and James Fenimore Cooper." Ph.D. diss., The Ohio State University, 1976, pp. 253, 254, 283, p. 356, pl. 56.

Kuspit, Donald B. "19th-Century Landscape: Poetry and Property." Art in America 64, no. 1 (January/February 1976), pp. 64-66, ill. (reversed).

Lassiter, Barbara Babcock. American Wilderness: The Hudson River School of Painting. Garden City, New York, 1978, pp. 8-12.

Powell, Earl A. III. "Thomas Cole and the American Landscape Tradition: The Naturalist Controversy." Arts Magazine 52, no. 6 (February 1978), pp. 114, 120, and 123.

Powell, Earl A. III. "The Picturesque." Arts Magazine 52, no. 7 (March 1978), p. 115, with ill.

Honour, Hugh. Romanticism. London, 1979, pp. 114-15.

Wallace, Richard W. Salvator Rosa in America. Exh. cat., The Wellesley College Museum, Wellesley, Mass., 1979, p. 113.

Cole, Thomas. The Collected Essays and Prose Sketches. Edited by Marshall B. Tymn. St. Paul, Minn., 1980, p. 130.

Groseclose, Barbara. "Itinerant Painting in Ohio: Origins and Implications." Ohio History 90, no. 2 (1981), pp. 135-36.

Wolf, Bryan Jay. Romantic Re-Vision: Culture and Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century American Painting and Literature. Chicago, 1982, pp. 182-83.

Baigell, Matthew. Thomas Cole. New York, 1985, p. 28.

Gerdts, William H. "American Landscape Painting: Critical Judgments, 1730-1845." The American Art Journal 17, no. 1 (1985), pp. 45 and 58.

Yau, John. The New Response: Contemporary Painters of the Hudson River. Exh. cat., Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, N.Y., 1985, ill. p. 8.

Powell, Earl A. III. "Thomas Cole's Early Career: 1818-1829." In Views and Visions: American Landscape Before 1830. Exh. cat., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 169.

Myers, Kenneth. The Catskills: Painters, Writers, and Tourists in the Mountains, 1820-1895. Exh. cat., The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, Yonkers, N.Y., 1987, pp. 40-44 and 112.

Philips, Sandra S., et al. Charmed Places: Hudson River Artists and Their Houses, Studios, and Vistas. Exh. cat., Edith C. Blum Art Institute, Bard College, Anandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., 1988, pp. 42, 44, and 148.

Powell, Earl A. III. The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination. Newark, N.J., 1988, pp. 23-30, 380-81 (notes).

Myers, Kenneth. "Thomas Cole and the Rise of Catskill Mountain Tourism." Appalachia (15 December 1988), pp. 51-55.

The Hone & Strong Diaries of Old Manhattan. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, 1989, pp. 113-14.

Myers, Kenneth. "Selling the Sublime: The Catskills and the Social Construction of Landscape Experience in the United States, 1776-1876." Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1990, pp. 13, 172-80.

Powell III, Earl A. Thomas Cole. New York, 1990, p. 19.

Shapiro, Michael Edward et al. George Caleb Bingham. New York, 1990, pp. 103-104.

Felker, Tracie. "First Impressions: Thomas Cole's Drawings of his 1825 Trip Up the Hudson River." The American Art Journal 24, nos. 1, 2 (1992), pp. 81, 87.

Ketner, Joseph D. The Emergence of the African American Artist: Robert S. Duncanson 1821-1872. Columbia, Mo., 1993, p. 38.

Truettner, William H., and Alan Wallach, et al. Thomas Cole: Landscape Into History. Exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., 1994, pp. 23-24, 28, and 171.

Wieseman, Marjorie E. "Charles F. Olney and the Collecting of Curiosities." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 49, no. 2 (1996), pp. 16, 18, 30.

Technical Data
The painting is in good condition. The canvas was lined prior to its acquisition by the Museum in 1904. The painting was cleaned in 1946, 1958, and completely in 1988, when considerable surface dirt and grime, as well as a white accretion from edge tape, were removed.

The thick, white, finely-layered ground is textured, possibly with a brush, in a crisscross pattern. There is overall cracking and slight cupping of the ground. The painting is primarily painted alla prima, but there is some layering of colors. The paint is moderately applied, with areas of impasto in the trees at the left and in the central sky. The paint surface is in good condition, with minor cracks and slight cupping. There are a few small areas of inpainting, especially at the left and bottom edges.

Footnotes
1. In "American" [William Dunlap], The New-York Evening Post, 22 November 1825, p. 2, col. 5. Dunlap later republished this material, leaving out much of the jingoistic rhetoric, in his History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, vol. 2 (New York, 1834), pp. 359-60 and 463 (the latter as Philip Hone Collection, "12. The Still Lake--Catskill Mountain"). Both accounts contain versions of Trumbull's famous statement to Dunlap that "this youth [Cole] has done what I have all my life attempted in vain." A documented summary of this material is found in Ellwood C. Parry III, The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination (Newark, N.J., 1988), pp. 23-27.

2. For a discussion of this mythic element, see R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago, 1955). On Cole, see Alan Wallach, "The Ideal American Artist and the Dissenting Tradition: A Study of Thomas Cole's Popular Reputation" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1973), pp. iv, 19, and 188; and Christine Stansell and Sean Wilentz, "Cole's America: An Introduction," in Thomas Cole: Landscape Into History (exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., 1994), pp. 3-23.

3. For discussion and numerous examples, see Views and Visions: American Landscape Before 1830 (exh. cat., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1987).

4. Thomas Cole's Notebook, p. 29; The Detroit Institute of Arts, inv. 39.558b. See Tracie Felker, "First Impressions: Thomas Cole's Drawings of his 1825 Trip Up the Hudson River," The American Art Journal 24, nos. 1, 2 (1992), pp. 60-93.

5. Cole's journal entry for 6 July 1834, New York State Library, Albany.

6. "A Review of the Gallery of the American Academy of Fine Arts," New-York Review and Atheneum Magazine 2 (December 1825), p. 77.

7. See Alan Wallach, "The Ideal American Artist and the Dissenting Tradition: A Study of Thomas Cole's Popular Reputation" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1973), pp. 114-23, and idem, in Thomas Cole: Landscape Into History (exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., 1994), pp. 24-25.

8. The influence of Oram's book on Cole's work, and in particular on Lake With Dead Trees, was first identified and discussed by Alan Wallach in "The Ideal American Artist and the Dissenting Tradition: A Study of Thomas Cole's Popular Reputation" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1973), pp. 187-89. For a recent summary, see Thomas Cole: Landscape Into History (exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., 1994), p. 28. Oram emphasized a landscape painting style based on his understanding of Claude Lorrain and suggested that compositions be organized into zones parallel to the picture plane, with the creative elements concentrated in the foreground, and the middle ground and distance more topographical in nature.

9. Pencil on paper, 17.1 x 26 cm, The Detroit Institute of Arts, inv. 39.254. Executed in the autumn of 1825 on Cole's first sketching trip to the Catskills, the drawing is basically an outline sketch with notations on light and color; in the final painting, the two deer and the upright and fallen dead tree trunks are added to animate and shape the foreground space.

10. "A Review of the Gallery of the American Academy of Fine Arts," New-York Review and Atheneum Magazine (2 December 1825), p. 77.

11. Myers first published this argument in his essay, "III. The Rise of Catskill Mountain Tourism, 1824-1838," in The Catskills: Painters, Writers, and Tourists in the Mountains, 1820-1895 (exh. cat., The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, Yonkers, 1987), pp. 41-44. He essentially republished it in "Thomas Cole and the Rise of Catskill Mountain Tourism," Appalachia (15 December 1988), pp. 52-55, and in "Selling the Sublime: The Catskills and the Social Construction of Landscape Experience in the United States, 1776-1876" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1990), pp. 172-80.

12. Oil on canvas, 63.8 x 90 cm, Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, inv. 1848.15.