Thomas Cole, Tower with Moonlight, oil on canvas, c. 1838, 16 ¾ x 20 ½ in (with frame). Collection of David and Laura Grey. View in Virtual Gallery
William Cullen Bryant had warned Cole before the artist left on his first trip to Europe to "keep that earlier, wilder image bright." Yet the poet approved of the changes in Cole's style due to his experiences abroad: "While in Italy, the manner of Cole underwent a considerable change: a certain timid softness of manner,—in comparison I mean with his later style,—was laid aside for that free and robust boldness in imitating the effects of nature, which has ever since characterized his work." 1 And although Cole often complained that he had trouble finding patrons for his ambitious allegorical series, the critical and popular response to The Course of Empire helped solidify his reputation as one of the country's most important painters. A patron, Philip Hone, saw an exhibition in 1833 of Cole's works after the artist's return from Europe and was moved to write in his diary, "I think every American is bound to prove his love of country by admiring Cole." 2 No doubt encouraged by the success of his series, Cole subsequently produced many paintings of picturesque ruins in lonely landscapes that recall the melancholy solemnity of Desolation.