Ever since I was younger, I’ve been a fan of Greek and Roman art, as well as the High Renaissance. American art just never captured my attention. It always felt as though it followed in the footsteps of the Italians or the French, but never did as good of a job.

That is, until I met Thomas Cole. Or, rather, until I met his paintings.

He was born at the turn of the 19th century and, ironically, he was born in England. He moved here with his family when he was 17. After little success with portraits, he moved on to landscapes and truly found his niche.

It was by accident that I discovered him, really. It was one of those last minute decisions that you make on a whim. Oh, I have to turn my topic in tomorrow for this 10 page paper that isn’t due for another three months? *flips pages in book* I like…THAT ONE!

Believe it or not, this approach has served me well over the years. I either have very good taste, or I’m just easily fascinated by the people I happen to choose. I’m going to go with the former.

The thing I like best about Cole isn’t the rolling country scenes that he known for, although that’s certainly part of it. My favorite thing is the grand scale of some of his paintings. It’s as if you’re viewing the countryside through a wide angle, panoramic lens. He seems to squeeze so many minute details into one piece of work. You can look at one of his paintings for hours on end and still notice new bits of brilliance that escaped you before.

After choosing Cole as the artist I would focus on, I had to choose a painting. Unable to stick to just one, I chose a series called The Course of Empire. (Which, in a way, was cheating, because it has a very Greco-Roman feel to it.) It’s made up of five painting that – you guessed it – depict the different stages than an empire goes through during the course of its lifetime. I think they need little explanation, so please see the paintings below.

The Savage State

The Arcadian or Pastoral State

The Consummation of Empire



What did you think of the series? Aren’t they inspiring!? I’d love write something based off of the scenes in these works of art.

Do you have any favorite American artists? Is there a particular style or genre of writing that you avoided for a long time because you never liked it, but have finally found something worth investing in?

  1. Fabio Bueno says:

    I don’t know much about visual arts (except for what I learn from you: ), but this series is definitely inspiring!
    You and I had the same thought; write something based on these paintings…

  2. Debra Kristi says:

    Beautiful Karen. My favorite is “The Arcadian or Pastoral State.” I could stare at it for hours. I love getting lost in art like that. Wish I could paint like that, but then I would never find the time!

    • Karen Rought says:

      Me neither! I also learned long ago that my talent lies in creating images with words, not paint! I really like the Destruction one, as morbid as that seems.

      • Debra Kristi says:

        That one reminds me of my daily battle with the kids. LOL! My mom and grandmother paint, but I never followed suit. I did some pencil and charcoal work. Never wanted to try painting. I don’t know why. Didn’t want to wait or the paint to dry. Too impatient? Maybe.

  3. Julie Glover says:

    The detail in those paintings is amazing! Wow. I had to think long and hard about a favorite American artist. I do like Georgia O’Keefe, but although he often isn’t considered I think my favorite may be Norman Rockwell. Cole is obviously a great choice. Thanks for sharing.

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