My last post of 2010 found me at Locust Grove on the Hudson River’s east bank, so I’m embracing the new year with a post or two (or three) related to the Hudson River School.  The school was a group of 19th-century landscape painters who studied and painted  the Hudson River Valley and surrounding areas. A PBS  web post has a fairly coherent introduction to these Romantic era painters:

“The first coherent school of American art, the Hudson River painters, helped to shape the mythos of the American landscape. Beginning with the works of Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) and evolving into the Luminist and late Romantic schools, landscape painting was the prevalent genre of 19th century American art.”

I thought Cole’s  five-part series of paintings, The Course of Empire, looked appropriate for a new year’s post, so here I am.

“The series of paintings depicts the growth and fall of an imaginary city, situated on the lower end of a river valley, near its meeting with a bay of the sea. The valley is distinctly identifiable in each of the paintings, in part because of an unusual landmark: a large boulder is precariously situated atop a crag overlooking the valley” said Wikipedia.

The Savage State, Thomas Cole, 1836

The Course of Empire is notable in part for reflecting popular American sentiments of the times, when many saw pastoralism as the ideal phase of human civilization, fearing that empire would lead to gluttony and inevitable decay.”

The series comprises the following works:

The Savage State ~ The Arcadian or Pastoral State ~ The Consummation ~ Destruction ~ Desolation.

Lord Byron’s  Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was  Coles’ literary inspiration for The Course of Empire. He quoted a verse from Canto IV in his newspaper advertisements for the series:

There is the moral of all human tales;
‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory – when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page.

“The poem describes the travels and reflections of a world-weary young man who, disillusioned with a life of pleasure and revelry, looks for distraction in foreign lands; in a wider sense, it is an expression of the melancholy and disillusionment felt by a generation weary of the wars of the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. The title comes from the term childe, a medieval title for a young man who was a candidate for knighthood.”

To be continued …

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