The art of Thomas Cole, 1801–1848


The Titan’s Goblet (1833).

Thomas Cole’s Titan’s Goblet isn’t featured at the Google Art Project, unfortunately, but the following paintings are, and all benefit from being able to explore their details. Cole’s colossal vessel predates Surrealism by a century, and is one of many paintings which always has me mentally labelling him as the American John Martin (1789–1854). Having thought of him for years as an American artist–not least because he founded the Hudson River School–it’s a surprise to learn he was born in Bolton, a town not far from Manchester, with his parents emigrating to the US when he was 17. John Martin also grew up in the north of England so there’s another similarity, although the more important comparison concerns their use of painting to convey the spectacularly vast and unreal scenes common to the imaginative side of Romantic art. The Titan’s Goblet is unusual in not having any particular symbolic or moral significance, unlike the pictures below, it’s Magritte-like in its careful depiction of the impossible. The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, on the other hand, could be exhibited beside Francis Danby’s The Deluge (1840) for a “before and after” effect. Like Martin, Cole enjoyed painting architecture of an exaggerated scale. The Architect’s Dream features an Egyptian temple of stupendous size, while the pyramid looming in the background is closer to William Hope Hodgson’s seven-mile-high Last Redoubt than any structure on the Nile plain.

Of equal interest are Cole’s two well-known series: The Course of Empire (1833–36) and The Voyage of Life (1842), both of which I’d love to see at Art Project size.


Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1828).


The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge (1829).


The Architect’s Dream (1840).

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Previously on { feuilleton }
John Martin’s musical afterlife
Albert Bierstadt in Yosemite
Danby’s Deluge
John Martin: Heaven & Hell
Darkness visible
Two American paintings
The apocalyptic art of Francis Danby

Albert Bierstadt in Yosemite


Sunset in the Yosemite Valley (c. 1868).

After yesterday’s photos of the Yosemite Valley I have to follow up with paintings of the region by Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), a German immigrant whose landscape art is connected to the Hudson River School although much of his work concerned views of California and the Rocky Mountains. Some of the paintings apparently received criticism for their deliberately Romantic approach to landscape, especially the John Martin-like blazing sunsets. All the pictures here date from the same period that Carelton Watkins was taking his celebrated photos of the area (which makes me wonder whether artist and photographer ever met) so complaints about lack of realism would seem somewhat redundant.

Wikimedia Commons has a substantial collection of Bierstadt’s paintings.


Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California (1865).


The Domes of the Yosemite (1867).


Cathedral Rocks, A Yosemite View (1872).

Previously on { feuilleton }
Carleton Watkins in Yosemite
Two American paintings

The art of Harold Hitchcock


Sunrise in a Valley (1974).

It’s difficult to say whether the work of Harold Hitchcock (born 1914) is rarely seen in his native country because of those British art critics who’ve often regarded fantastic or sacred themes with suspicion—or whether it’s merely because people find his work to be bad. Sometimes the latter accusation appears to be a disguise for the former belief, especially among those who follow the pack rather than drawing their own conclusions. At times the English Channel has acted as an aesthetic as well as a physical barrier. British art never quite got to grips with Surrealism, despite the best efforts of Roland Penrose and others, while Symbolism was almost exclusively a Continental movement whose existence was largely expunged from later art histories; the 1959 Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, for instance, has entries for minor groupings such as the Hudson River School and the Nazarenes, but no entry at all for Symbolism. Fantasy was allowable in illustration but not elsewhere; no wonder Mervyn Peake took up writing.

So much for polemic. Hitchcock’s work comprises very detailed landscapes that present a Claude Lorraine-like approach to light with more Modernist forays reminiscent of Expressionist painters such as Franz Marc. His fanciful works remind me of his Surrealist contemporary Leonora Carrington, with their creation of a self-contained, often naive, private world. Hitchcock lives in South Devon and was still active three years ago when the BBC reported his 90th birthday. The American exhibition mentioned in that news story took place at the Phillips Gallery, Carmel, CA and their site has three pages of (rather blurred) examples of his luminous work.

Update: The official Harold Hitchcock site

Harold Hitchcock by Leonard Hitchcock
Catching the Light by Emmanuel Williams

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The fantastic art archive