This drawing from Cole's sketchbook shows his interest in the theme of human and natural history, a theme he explored throughout The Course of Empire. The composition of Ruins, or the Effects of Time is very similar to Desolation, and appears to be an early study for the finished work. Desolation contains the same prominent column as in this drawing, but in the painting it is covered with vines, added to symbolize nature in the process of reclaiming civilization. Noticeably absent from Desolation are the "remains of a human skeleton seen in an uncovered sarcophagus," 1 which Cole noted in his description of the drawing and which can be seen in the sketch's foreground. In the final painting, any depiction of human remains has been eliminated in favor of woodland animals, which roam through the ruins. Cole apparently wanted to mute human tragedy in Desolation in order to emphasize the haunting beauty of nature's return. 2
1. Thomas Cole, <cite>Ruins, or the Effects of Time</cite>, pencil on paper, c. 1832-3, 15 ½ x 9 ¼ in. Detroit Institute of Arts, Founder’s Society Purchase, William H. Murphy Fund, 39.559.43.
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2. Thomas Cole, <cite>The Course of Empire: Desolation</cite>, oil on canvas, 1836, 39 ½ x 63 ½ in. Collection of The New-York Historical Society, 1858.5.