6 1/4 x 4 3/8 in. (15.9 x 11.1 cm)
(Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, England, 1801 - 1848, Cedar Grove, NY)
Medium and Support:
Oil on panel
Gift of Howard and Florence Merritt
Director Emeritus Grant Holcomb speaks about this object.
Though small, this painting has a significance far beyond its size. Painted by one of the preeminent artists in the history of American art, it’s an early visual document of the Genesee Valley region, the falls of a creek cascading into the gorge of the Genesee River in what is now Letchworth State Park.
Thomas Cole is considered the first great landscape painter in America and, with Asher B. Durand (also in our collection), one of the founders of the Hudson River School. These were the country’s first artists to move beyond images of descriptive topography to the depiction of scenes in nature that were worthy of contemplation in their own right, with their own rewards, whether moral, philosophical or nationalistic. Views of the Catskills, the Adirondacks, Niagara Falls and, here, the Genesee Valley captured the imagination of both artist and general public during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Gallery is blessed with a number of magnificent Hudson River School paintings.
This tiny oil sketch is able to convey both the power and the vastness of nature, from the billowing white clouds in the upper left to the plunging falls in the middle distance. The figures standing on the bridge, dwarfed by nature, contemplate the wonders around them. Emerson’s belief that the facts of nature contain messages of the divine is certainly pertinent here and in most 19th century American landscape painting.
The painting has, for me, an intimacy, directness and freshness that is not found in the larger, more finished version of the scene now at the Rhode Island School of Design. The Gallery’s painting may be small but it is loaded with historical, social, religious and literary overtones that identify an era and, indeed, a century of American experience with the land.
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