A fitting apex to the series, Consummation is the largest and most complex of all the works. Cole's installation diagram shows how he intended the paintings to be arranged around the mantle in Luman Reed's gallery. Consummation is the fulcrum around which all the other paintings are arranged. Given Cole's difficulties with rendering human figures, his ambitious composition posed an enormous challenge. Regarding this work, he called the chiaroscuro "broad"—his way of describing the overall brightness of the scene. Light—usually a positive formal element in a painter's repertoire of visual symbols—is here associated with an overripe, decadent civilization.
1. Thomas Cole, <cite>Installation Diagram for the Course of Empire</cite>, pen and brown ink over graphite pencil on off-white wove paper, 1833, 9 7/8 x 13 1/8 in. Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, William H. Murphy Fund, 39.351.
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2. Thomas Cole, <cite>The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire</cite>, oil on canvas, 1836, 51 x 76 in. Collection of The New-York Historical Society, 1858.3.