Thomas Cole. Oil on canvas, 1827, 25 ¼ x 35 1/8 in. New Britain Museum of American Art. Charles F. Smith Fund, 1945.22.
There is one season when the American forest surpasses all the world in gorgeousness—that is the autumnal; & then every hill and dale is riant in the luxury of color—every hue is there, from the liveliest green to deepest purple—from the most golden yellow to the intensest crimson. The artist looks despairingly upon the glowing landscape, and in the old world his truest imitations of the American forest, at this season, are called falsely bright, and scenes in Fairy Land. 1
Cole was not alone in despairing: when Jasper Cropsey first exhibited his painting Autumn—On the Hudson River in London, he sent for dried leaves from America to prove to European critics that he had indeed accurately depicted their colors.
"Written in Autumn"
Another year like a frail flower is bound
In time's sere withering aye to cling,
Eternity, thy shadowy temples round,
Like to the musick of a broken string
That ne'er can sound again, 'tis past and gone,
Its dying sweetness dwells within memory alone—
Year after year with silent lapse fleet by;
Each seems more brief than that which went before;
The weeks of youth are years; but manhood's fly
On swifter wings, years seem but weeks, no more—
So glides a river through a thirsty land,
Wastes as it flows till lost amid the Desert sand.
The green of Spring which melts the heart like love
Is faded long ago, the fiercer light
Of hues autumnal, fire the quivering grove,
And rainbow tints array the mountain-height—
A pomp there is, a glory on the hills
And gold and crimson stream reflected from the rills.
But 'tis a dying pomp a gorgeous shroud
T' enwrap the lifeless year—I scarce forgive
The seeming mockery of death; but that aloud
A voice sounds through my soul—"All things live
To die and die to be renewed again,
Therefore we should rejoice at death and not complain."
Catskill, October, 1837 2
The sky will next demand our attention. The soul of all scenery, in it are the fountains of light, and shade, and color. Whatever expression the sky takes, the features of the landscape are affected in unison, whether it be the serenity of the summer's blue, or the dark tumult of the storm. It is the sky that makes the earth so lovely at sunrise, and so splendid at sunset. In the one it breathes over the earth the crystal-like ether, in the other liquid gold... And if he who has travelled and observed the skies of other climes will spend a few months on the banks of the Hudson, he must be constrained to acknowledge that for variety and magnificence American skies are unsurpassed... Look at the heavens when the thunder shower has passed, and the sun stoops behind the western mountains—there the low purple clouds hang in festoons around the steeps—in the higher heaven are crimson bands interwoven with feathers of gold, fit for the wings of angels—and still above is spread that interminable field of ether, whose color is too beautiful to have a name. It is not in the summer only that American skies are beautiful; for the winter evening often comes robed in purple and gold, and in the westering sun the iced groves glitter as beneath a shower of diamonds—and through the twilight heaven innumerable stars shine with a purer light than summer ever knows. 3