Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire

An exhibition of beautifully-articulated fine art from the 19th Century – on now until 7th October at The National Gallery…

Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Desolation, 1836. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society © Collection of The New-York Historical Society, New York / Digital image created by Oppenheimer Editions.

Thomas Cole

A self-taught artist from Bolton, Cole is recognised as the father of landscape painting in the US. His career was shaped by his formative years labouring in the textile mills north of Manchester, and by his later study of the European masters whose works he travelled to see in London, Paris, and Rome.

Known for epic vistas, dramatic natural settings, and imaginative landscapes, Thomas Cole’s work depicts nature at its most powerful and vulnerable. His paintings glory in the unique terrain of the American Northeast – largely still unspoiled in his time – while serving as a cautionary tale about the use of natural resources in an increasingly industrial age.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, says:

“Thomas Cole’s passionate engagement with the landscape of the recently established United States marks a new beginning in American painting. Inspired by the European tradition of Claude, Turner, and, Constable, Cole depicted the unspoilt beauty of the American landscape but he also prophesied the dangers of an encroaching urban and industrialised society on it. His concerns remain highly topical today.”.

Eden to Empire

View of Monte Video, the Seat of Daniel Wadsworth, Esq, Thomas Cole, 1828. Oil on wood, 50.2 × 66.2 cm. © Wadsworth Atheneum / Allen Phillips.

The exhibition includes 58 works, the majority on loan from North American collections. It includes Cole’s iconic painting cycle, ‘The Course of Empire’ (1834–6, New-York Historical Society) and the masterpiece that secured his career and reputation – and which has never been seen in the UK before – ‘View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow’ (1836, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Cole’s paintings are shown alongside works by British artists with whom he was personally acquainted, as well as those who influenced him most, including Joseph Mallord William Turner and John Constable.

Christopher Riopelle, The Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Painting at the National Gallery, says:

“Cole is not as well known here as in America, where his works are hugely admired. The story this exhibition tells, however, is a fascinating and novel lesson in international artistic exchange. A young émigré returns to Britain and travels on to the Continent to learn about contemporary European landscape painting and then carries the lessons home where, almost single-handedly, he forges the American landscape tradition.“.

A Contemporary Response…

The Deluge, John Martin,
c. 1828. Mezzotint with etching, engraver’s proof, 60.3 × 80.6 cm. © Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.

In Room 1, a concurrent exhibition Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire displays a cycle of ten paintings by the renowned Los Angeles artist (b. 1937), which responds to Cole’s ‘The Course of Empire’. More than one hundred and fifty years later, Ruscha offers a contemporary answer to the questions Cole first raised about the fate of a society out of balance with nature.


Open to public: 11 June –7 October 2018
Daily 10am–6pm (last admission 5pm)
Fridays 10am–9pm (last admission 8.15pm)

Admission charge:
Members and under-12s FREE (ticket required)

Booking tickets: For advance tickets to ‘Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire’ please visit or call 0800 912 6958 (booking fee). You can also book tickets in person from the Gallery.  Overseas customers can contact us by dialling +44 020 7126 5573.

Organised by the National Gallery, London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Sponsored by international law firm, White & Case LLP


[Credits:  Feature image – The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire, Thomas Cole, 1835–6  (National Gallery:  Oil on canvas, 130.2 × 193 cm; © Collection of The New-York Historical Society, New York / Digital image created by Oppenheimer Editions); National Gallery Press Office]


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