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Catskill Creek, New York
Date: 1845
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Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Overall: 26 1/2 x 36 in. ( 67.3 x 91.4 cm ) Framed: 37 5/8 x 47 5/8 x 4 1/2 in. ( 95.6 x 121 x 11.4 cm )
Credit Line: The Robert L. Stuart Collection, the gift of his widow Mrs. Mary Stuart
Object Number: S-157
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The Catskill Mountains were an important subject for Cole from the beginning of his career; in 1836 he moved to the village of Catskill on the west bank of the Hudson River, and the distinctive undulating mountain peaks were a regular motif in his work. In this painting from his late career, the artist acknowledged the encroachment of civilization on his beloved mountains, but nonetheless depicted them as a haven where man and nature could harmoniously co-exist.

From the 1820s on, the Catskill area became an increasingly popular tourist destination and commercial enterprise made inroads as well, to Cole's grave concern. In 1836 the Canajoharie & Catskill Railroad begin clearing land for a 26-mile line. In a letter that year to his patron Luman Reed, Cole fumed at "the dollar-godded utilitarians" who were cutting down trees in the valley. In this autumnal twilight view, the ax-hewn tree in the left foreground is a pointed reminder of man's presence, and the smoke in the background, carefully placed at the center of the composition, hints ominously at growing industry in the area. However, the viewer's eye ultimately rests upon the foreground figure pulling his small boat from the water as a companion, almost hidden in the rocks, gestures toward the still-wild, primeval woods.

Bibliography:

Stillman & Durand, eds., "Sketchings," The Crayon, Vol. III, No. 2, February 1856, pp. 123, 57

Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, p. 207.

Maddox, Kenneth W., "Thomas Cole and the Railroad: Gentle Maledictions," Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1986, pp. 2-10.

Sweeney, J. Gray, '"Endured with Rare Genius:' Frederic Edwin Church's 'To the Memory of Cole,"' Smithsonian Studies in American Art, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter, 1988), p. 48.

Powell, Earl A., Thomas Cole. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, p. 112.

Koja, Stephan, Ed. AMERICA: The New World in 19th-Century Painting, Munich: New York: Prestel, 1999, p. 74.

Ledes, Allison E., ed. "The Magazine Antiques: January 2005." New York: Brant Publications, Inc., 2005.

Exhibitions:

"American Light: The Luminist Movement," National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., February 10, 1980-June 15, 1980.

"Intimate Friends: Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, and William Cullen Bryant," New-York Historical Society, October 24, 2000-February 4, 2001.

"The Course of Empire: Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School Landscape Tradition," New York State Museum, Albany, NY, August 23-November 30, 2003.

"Winter Antiques Show," New-York Historical Society, January 20, 2005-January 30, 2005.

Indianapolis Museum of Art, June 2005.

"Nature and the American Vision," New-York Historical Society, March 13, 2005-January 25, 2008.

"Nature and the American Vision," New-York Historical Society, April 4, 2008-January 25, 2009.

"Nature and the American Vision," New-York Historical Society, April 17, 2009-July 12, 2009.