Thomas Cole. Oil on canvas, 1844, 35 13/16 x 53 7/8 in. Brooklyn Museum. Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 52.16.
Originally known as the Pine Orchard Hotel when it opened to the public in 1824, the Catskill Mountain House was a premiere destination for Catskill tourists in the early- to mid-nineteenth century. At first only comprised of ten private rooms, the hotel grew to accommodate nearly 200 guests, who often stayed for a few nights to see the surrounding scenery, including Kaaterskill Falls. The most popular feature of the hotel, which was perched on the escarpment of South Mountain in the Catskills, was its spectacular view of the cloud-filled sunrise over the Hudson River, once described as "a boundless ocean."
Cole frequently painted the areas surrounding the Catskill Mountain House, and his journal entries indicate that he must have stayed there himself on a few occasions. Cole was more interested in the mountain's scenic views than in the hotel's entertainments. Describing his impromptu visit to the hotel in July 1835, he complained:
There was much company & as usual in such places few that enjoyed the magnificence that nature spread around them...One party of men was engaged in the intellectual game of ninepins and half a dozen ladies & as many of the other sex were dancing in a long room...What a desecration of the place where nature offers a feast of higher holier enjoyment! Alas that men should thrust their frivolities into the very face of the sublimest regions of the world! 1
Cole's depictions of the rugged landscape of the Catskill Mountains actually increased tourism to the area. His paintings became the model for many of the engravings included in guidebooks and advertisements for the Catskills during the mid-nineteenth century. In spite of the touristic exploitation of the region, Cole continued to paint scenes of his beloved Catskills until the end of his life. His many variations on this subject brought in much-needed income while he worked on his less-popular allegorical landscapes. 2