It's a series of five large and superbly detailed paintings that clearly show Thomas Cole's political beliefs that empires formed on greed and expansion will ultimately fall, and that the pastoral agricultural life is what humanity should aspire to.
Thomas Cole is best known as a landscape painter of the American wilderness but he was born and raised in Lancashire before emigrating across the Atlantic in his teenage years. The National Gallery has united his work with the British painters that would have inspired him so we can see his work next to great landscape artists such as Turner and Constable.
This is a risky gambit as it could upstage the works of Cole. Luckily Cole is able to hold his own against these greats, which is testament to the scale and quality of his paintings.
Turner and Constable tried to capture the energy of a moment and this exhibition also includes the works of John Martin who projected chaos and destruction on his landscapes. Thomas Cole's approach was largely to let us be awed by the beauty and monumentality of nature – figures in the foreground are dwarfed by the Catskill mountains in the distance. Cole loved the wild and it feels like his paintings were designed to make us fall in love with it too – based on these works he has succeeded.
Fans of landscape painting will love to lose themselves in the American wilderness and while Cole may not have changed the trajectory of landscape painting like Turner and Constable did, he was a superb painter in his own right and that's our take away from this show.
Alongside this exhibition The National Gallery is also presenting one room of works by contemporary American artist Ed Ruscha. The link being that this series is named Course of Empire after the Cole paintings. Ruscha takes on the modern empire of industrial buildings to show how they have evolved across a series of 10 paintings. Course of Empire is Ruscha’s striking response to the Biennale’s theme of civilisational progress. Displayed simultaneously with Thomas Cole’s famous painting cycle of 1833–36 in the Ground Floor Galleries, its monolithic and almost primeval structures offer a very different approach to the cyclical nature of civilisation.
It's a sign of the times that cities should evolve to what's needed by locals but by focussing on the tops of each building Ruscha keeps a cool distance as if the change doesn't affect him. This detached effect is why his series lacks the punch of Thomas Cole's.
|What||Review: Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire, National Gallery|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
11 Jun 18 – 07 Oct 18, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|