Thomas Cole. Oil on canvas, 1844, 35 13/16 x 53 7/8 in. Brooklyn Museum. Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 52.16.
By studying the two preparatory works for View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, we get an idea of the initial stages of Cole's creative process: first, he did an ink sketch to lay out the composition and note specific details of the site; next, he created a study in oils to work out the color scheme. In the finished painting, he integrated the specificity of the drawing with the painterly qualities of the second study. The composition of the final painting is quite similar to the sketches, although Cole pushed the boulder and large tree to the edges of the canvas, allowing space for the viewer to enter the scene. He also replaced the animals in the foreground of the sketches (a snake in the first, a deer in the second) with a depiction of an artist in the final painting. 1
An unfinished painting from the same period as A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House reveals much about Cole's painting process in the studio. Lake Mohonk is no doubt based on en plein air sketches Cole made during a trip to the Shawangunk Mountains in Ulster County, New York, in August 1846. Laying down a preliminary drawing (penciled lines are still visible under the thin paint), Cole then scumbled in reddish-brown underpaint, making it more or less dense depending on the land masses he planned for the finished work. He then continued filling in the cloud-filled sky and its reflection in the water. (Note how the ground color tints the unfinished portions of the sky.) He also began to detail the uppermost crags and trees, but for some unknown reason, he abandoned the canvas in its half-finished state. This work shows that Cole conceived of the landscape in layers, generally moving from the top down and making adjustments as he went along. His method allowed for many transformations during the painting process, and his landscape views invariably bear the marks of his unique aesthetic sensibilities. 2
1. Thomas Cole, <cite>View of the Catskill Mountain House</cite>, pen and black ink over pencil on paper, c. 1835, 9 3/8 x 15 ½ in. The Art Museum, Princeton University, Frank Jewett Mather, Jr. Collection. View in Virtual Gallery
2. Thomas Cole, <cite>Study for A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning</cite>, oil on canvas, c. 1844, 8 ¾ x 10 ¾ in. Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc. View in Virtual Gallery
3. Thomas Cole, <cite>Lake Mohonk</cite>, oil on panel, c. 1846, 20 ¼ × 30 1/8 in. Collection of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC. View in Virtual Gallery
4. Thomas Cole, <cite>A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning</cite>, oil on canvas, 1844, 35 13/16 x 53 7/8 in. Brooklyn Museum. Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 52.16.