Visiting the Olana State Historic Site, the famous home of artist Frederic Church, in Hudson, NY, only slaked my thirst to see the home of my favorite painter, Thomas Cole. I studied these artists in art school. Church and Cole were part of what we now call the “Hudson River Valley School” of artists, the first real art genre developed in America. They essentially created what we call “romanticism” or “Luminism” in their works. Their paintings were very idealistic and romantic, telling the stories of humans in natural settings in their lushly-painted landscapes. Unlike the French naturalist movement, the American painters believed that the natural world was God’s good creation, made for the enjoyment of mankind and reflective of his journey in this world. As I’d written in the Olana post:
Luminism seemed very appropos for the period– a time of exceptional industry and invention but also a time of rising utilitarianism with the tragedies of the Civil War punctuating the century. These artists brought us back to the simple treasures of nature, where man is at peace with God’s good creation. Far from exalting nature as a Shangri-La type of deity like Voltaire so erroneously extolled, these artists emphasized nature as the beautiful, inspirational backdrop for peace with God and other men, celebrating with art the psalmist’s cries, “Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows forth knowledge” (Psalm 19:2).
Many of the Hudson River School paintings depict clear scenes or illusory hints of Biblical themes and events. I love the Voyage of Life series because of the stories each painting tells, that of a man eventually finding his faith in God and the joys of heaven after a tempestuous life of sorrow. It’s simply…. beautiful.
The Thomas Cole Historic Site is a brief drive from Olana, in nearby Catskill, New York. The scenery is breathtaking, and it leaves no doubt as to why these artists gathered to this area of Upstate New York for inspiration.
The home has been kept up well. It was initially built on a large farm owned by a local merchant, John Thomson. Cole visited the property on occasion, but decided to make it his home after marrying Thomson’s niece, Maria.
Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in the home. So I snapped a few photos of the views from the elevated front porch. Imagine waking to this every day!
We took the tour for a small admission fee. The tour was good but much, much too short. I think our tour guide got only halfway though before he realized he has to rush us along at the end to make way for the next group. The tour guide, a very elderly gentleman, was full of knowledge of the family and surrounding area.
Besides the house, there are a few barns, a privy, and Cole’s private art studio in which to explore. And of course, there’s a gift shop with a video you can watch.
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site put together a superb video about the history of Cole and the Hudson River Valley School of Art.
The official website Cedar Grove: The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is very well done and full of information about the house and the lives of its residents. Also, check out the virtual art gallery, too! Excellent!