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The natural and semi-natural landscapes of the first two paintings are “obliterated by the garish architecture of an imperial city.At lower left, the returning conqueror, an emperor robed in red, crosses the marble bridge on a chariot pulled by an elephant.
If I were to place us along Cole’s continuum, this fourth painting seems to match the present state of the world most closely.
In the final painting of the series, “In these paintings,” writes Elizabeth Kornhauser, the curator of the exhibition, “the artist addressed the dangers faced by the young nation under the expansionist policies of President Andrew Jackson, which led to drastic ecological, social, and economic changes, and he challenged the American public to consider the moral value of maintaining the sublime aspects of the landscape.” In his painting series – Cole “called on the American public to stop destroying God’s pure creation—the wilderness,” writes Kornhauser.
Finally, in 1818, when he was 17 years old, his parents gave up on England and emigrated with the family to America, settling in Ohio.
(The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum marks the 200th anniversary of Cole’s first, westward crossing of the Atlantic.) His early experiences, the exhibition argues, profoundly influenced Cole’s later attitudes toward the relationship between nature and society.
He returned to America to create some of his most ambitious works and inspire a new generation of American painters.” He and his students, and other American landscape painters he inspired, came to be known as the Hudson River School.
Elizabeth Kornhauser, Curator of American Painting and Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and co-author of the exhibition catalogue, calls Cole “the first proto-environmental artist in America,” an understatement of his pioneering vision.The forces driving this development caused a loss of traditional spinning and weaving jobs and the collapse of the pre-industrial economy.As a young boy, Cole worked in a textile factory, and witnessed arson and machine-breaking attacks by Luddites, groups of unemployed workmen whose jobs had been replaced by the new machinery.Our current president seems to have a fascination, if not personal identification, with Emperor Jackson., completed in 1836, chaos and violence, fires, smoke, destruction, and a storm have overwhelmed the scene of the previous painting.Our word “sabotage” comes from the French cousins of the Luddites, whose simple wooden clogs, called “sabot” in French, were sometimes thrown into machines to disable them. Turner (1775–1851) were depicting their dystopian images in their works.When Cole was seven years old, the English poet William Blake called the burgeoning factories “dark Satanic Mills.” Painters such as Philip de Loutherbourg (1740-1812) and J. When his father’s business failed, Cole worked for a time as an engraver of the blocks from which calicoes, colorful cotton fabrics, were printed.As the Metropolitan Museum’s website about the exhibition says, “Cole’s abiding passion for the American wilderness resulted in his fervent visual warning in these paintings to his fellow American citizens of the harsh ecological cost of unchecked development of the land.” As a nation we didn’t heed his warning very well, although it radiated into our American culture through his influence on many other painters and writers.Their vision and their environmental warnings are still supremely relevant today.The large painting, about four feet tall and six wide, shows a sinuous oxbow bend in the river.On the far side, the forest has been mostly cleared for farms; clearcuts and wisps of smoke on the hills show that the process is continuing.