Thomas Cole. Oil on canvas, 1836-37, 39 x 63 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift in memory of Jonathan Sturges by his children, 1895, 95.13.3.
Cole's process of transforming his field sketches into imaginative landscape compositions is evident in View on the Catskill, Early Autumn. Intent on recapturing the scenic splendor of his beloved Catskill Creek, Cole employed pencil sketches he had made five years earlier to create a nostalgic vision of an era before loggers and railroad builders had spoiled the picturesque beauty of the landscape.
Although remaining faithful to the Catskill topography, Cole adopted the traditional artistic conventions of the pastoral landscape: the framing of foreground trees, the gradual recession into space, the harmonizing of landscape elements, and the golden light that suffuses the scene. He omitted the unsightly changes that had occurred in the years since he had made his sketches. He also added details not present in his sketches, such as the man in the rowboat, the farmer chasing after his horses in the meadow, the woman gathering wildflowers, her baby sitting by the bank of the stream, and the hunter coming into scene at the right. Cole used these symbolic embellishments to evoke a sense of harmony between human society and the natural world. As he wrote in 1836:
Rural nature is... the exhaustless mine from which the poet and the painter have brought such wondrous treasures—an unfailing fountain of intellectual enjoyment, where all may drink, and be awakened to a deeper feeling of the works of genius, and a keener perception of the beauty of our existence. For those whose days are all consumed in the low pursuits of avarice, or the gaudy frivolities of fashion, unobservant of nature's loveliness, are unconscious of the harmony of creation. 1
1. Thomas Cole, <cite>Untitled, Landscape Composition</cite>, graphite pencil on off-white wove paper, 1832. Detroit Institute of Arts. Founders Society Purchase, William H. Murphy Fund, 39.566.41. View in Virtual Gallery
2. Thomas Cole, <cite>Near Catskill</cite>, graphite pencil on off-white wove paper, 1832-33. Detroit Institute of Arts. Founders Society Purchase, William H. Murphy Fund, 39.566.45. View in Virtual Gallery
3. Thomas Cole, <cite>View on the Catskill, Early Autumn</cite>, oil on canvas, 1836-37, 39 x 63 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift in memory of Jonathan Sturges by his children, 1895, 95.13.3.