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Thomas Cole and Cultural Form Painting

             'Thomas Cole's painting of the oxbow-shaped bend formed by the Connecticut River just south of Northampton, Massachusetts, has long been recognized as one of the outstanding works in the American landscape tradition.'1 Many admired Cole's work throughout his lifetime. As founding father of the Hudson River School, he influenced numerous other artists of his time including Asher B. Durand and Fredrick Edwin Church, both of whom eventually went on to create paintings commemorating Cole. 'The Oxbow' in particular is an expression of westward expansion across American during the 19th century, a movement that shaped America.
             This image visually displays a divide; half of the painting shows a raging thunderstorm, where land is untouched and wild, whilst the other half, where the river is visible, displays cultivated land where its clear the fields have been cultured which suggests settlements have been made. Its well known that whilst other Hudson River School artists had a tendency of merging the sublime and the picturesque in their paintings, Cole made a point to stray away from that style, portraying two contrasting sides and in particular the destruction human kind was inflicting on nature. In artwork of this time and movement, the overwhelming power and scale of wild nature is what is known as the sublime, these features emulate fear, dread, awe and human insignificance; whereas the elements of cultivation, presence of human culture and representation of nature as beautiful and benevolent are known as the picturesque. In 'The Oxbow' it is features of the painting such as the grey/blue storm in the background and the emerging, uncultivated agriculture on the left hand side that are the sublime; whilst the on the right side, with clear, light blue skies and some what urbanized pastures the style is picturesque. Despite the apparent divide, .
             Due to his success from previous work, such as 'Kaaterskill Falls' (1826), by 1829 Cole's was able to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe, remaining in Italy from 1831-1832 and visiting Florence, Rome and the Naples as well as countries such as England, where he was born.

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