The Course of Empire The Savage State (1836) by Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire The Savage State - Thomas Cole - 1834

Artwork Information

TitleThe Course of Empire The Savage State
ArtistThomas Cole
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions100 x 160.5 cm
Art MovementRomanticism
Current LocationNew York Historical Society, New York City, NY, US

About The Course of Empire The Savage State

“The Course of Empire: The Savage State” is an evocative piece of art by Thomas Cole created in 1834, exhibiting the characteristics of the Romanticism movement. Crafted with oil on canvas, the artwork’s dimensions are 100 by 160.5 cm and belong to the allegorical landscape genre. It forms part of “The Course of Empire” series and is currently housed in the New York Historical Society in New York City, New York, United States.

The artwork depicts a wild and untamed natural landscape in a scene that conveys the rawness and beauty of nature untouched by civilization. In the foreground, dense forests filled with lush green trees dominate, while a hunter clad in skins appears amidst the wilderness, hinting at the presence of primitive human life interacting with the environment. This hunter, barely noticeable at first glance, is emblematic of humanity’s nascent coexistence with the natural world in its most unadulterated form.

In the background, imposing mountains rise majestically, with one pinnacle particularly striking as it towers over the scene. The sky is rendered with dramatic clouds and a play of light and shadow that suggests a dynamic, changing atmosphere, typical of Romantic era skies that aimed to evoke emotion and convey the sublime aspects of nature. A river meanders through the middle ground, reflecting the sunlight in places and adding a sense of tranquility to the otherwise rugged and unsettled landscape.

Cole’s use of light and shadow, in combination with precise brushstrokes and a rich palette, accentuates the dominance of nature and its inherent sublimity. The artwork invites contemplation on the relationship between humans and their environment, and the transient nature of civilizations, a concept that is explored thematically through the entire series to which this painting belongs.

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