Thomas Cole was a prominent Anglo-American painter who founded the Hudson River School in the 19th century. Known for his landscape and history paintings, he believed they could convey moral and religious values. “The Return,” painted in 1838, is a landscape painting in the Romanticism genre. Cole’s use of two canvases helped him to build a more substantial narrative, resulting in a technical and emotional masterpiece.
The painting represents the typical American figure of the self-taught artist, and its message is clear: expansion and civilization come at an exorbitant cost. Cole romanticizes the American wilderness, portraying its beauty and grandeur. The painting imparts a moral lesson: The march of civilization and settlement come at the expense of defiling the untouched wilderness. Cole’s use of light and dark tones results in a striking contrast, adding emotional depth to the painting.
Cole’s work was influential in promoting American nationalism and promoting landscapes as subject matter for art. This painting remains a significant piece of American history and art, notable for its artistic merit and historical importance. It is a testament to Cole’s mastery of his craft and his ability to use art to convey a powerful message.