Landscape Now: Keynote Lecture – Tim Barringer


Mark: Great. Welcome, everyone. I think we’ll get going on our
second day of the conference. It gives me great pleasure
to welcome and to introduce Tim Barringer who’ll be giving
this morning’s keynote. Tim, as all of you all
know, not only one of our very best art historians
but really one of the leading scholars
of the visual arts in Victorian Britain and in
19th century America. He’s not only written and
edited seminal books such as a prize-winning Men at Work: Art
and Labour in Victorian Britain of 2006 and Art in the British
Empire of 2007, which he added co-edited with Geoff
Quilley and Douglas Fordham. He’s also curated a series
of major exhibitions. When you look over that list over
time it’s pretty remarkable. Those include American Sublime: Landscape Painting
in the United States 1825 to 1880 which
took place at Tate Britain in 2002, Art in Emancipation in Jamaica which took place at the
Yale Center in 2007 is one of many collaborations that
Tim has worked on with the Yale Center
for British art. Of course Pre-Raphaelites:
Victorian Avant-Garde which opened at Tate
Britain in 2012, and then went on an
astonishing journey to Washington, Moscow,
Tokyo, and Turin. Furthermore, yet another major and
amazing show is on the horizon. Thomas Cole’s Journey:
Atlantic Crossings opens at the Met in
January, this coming January before then
coming to the National Gallery here in
London in the summer. That’s a really exciting
show to look forward to. At the same time, as that show is
taking place, Tim has been involved with a collective of artists
drawings at Yale, organising another parallel exhibition,
which is actually taking place at Thomas Cole’s house in the Catskills,
which is called the Picturesque and the Sublime. In 2009, Tim was the Slade professor
at Cambridge where he gave a great series of lectures on the topic of
broken music- oh broken pastoral. [laughter] Arts and music or art in
the pastoral of Britain. No, no, I won’t get it even more confused. Let me just say it one more
time Broken Pastoral: Art and Music in Britain, Gothic
Revival to Punk Rock. It’s a book that we’re all looking forward to reading
when it comes out. As I mentioned yesterday,
he’s going to be giving the Paul Mellon
lectures again here in London and again
in Yale in the spring of 2019 on a topic
of global landscape. All of this, of course,
is hugely impressive, but I think we really
have to mark this moment by saying that what’s
also remarkable about Tim is the quality and the
impact of his teaching. Quite simply he’s helped turn the
Yale history of art department into one of the world’s most
exciting places to study British art and into a pioneering center
of scholarship on the topic of the relationship between British
art in the British Empire. During his time at New Haven,
Tim has taught and mentored a host of exceptionally
talented graduate students, many of whom have gone
on to leading jobs in the discipline, and all of
whom when you talk to them testify to his wonderful
guidance, to his liveliness, his interest, his enthusiasm,
and his intellectual energy, and above all, his
willingness to take them on far-flung field trips
all across the world. Audience member: At no expense. [laughter] Mark: At no expense, indeed. In this processes, he
had a huge and hugely positive influence on our field as a whole, so much of
what we today take for granted in relation to
British art history, particularly in terms
of its exploration of themes of empire
and of cross-cultural artistic exchange
that’s been profoundly shaped by Tim’s
thinking and teaching. The special treat
Tim to have managed to pull you away from your own risk duties as chair of the department
at Yale and to bring you to London. Given all your recent
research on the landscape painting, we were really
keen for you to come. So we very much look forward
to hearing your talk on Thomas Cole’s Journey:
The White Atlantic. Thanks very much. [applause] Tim Barringer: Well,
thank you so much, Mark. That’s a very moving and a
really wonderful introduction. It’s also a great honor
to speak in this room. I want to thank the
organizing troika of institutions, which is
a great collaboration, but it’s also great
to speak in a room with so many people who influence my own thinking when I
was starting thinking about landscape, and
also who’ve actually already published many of the ideas that I’m going to
give as my own today. I particularly want to
thank Steve Daniels who’s here somewhere and Michael
Rosenthal who will recognize the imprint of
their own work on what I’ve been trying to say
about Thomas Cole. We had a superb day
of papers yesterday. It was really one of the
best days of conference that I’ve been to for
many, many years. I want to acknowledge how
much I’ve learned from my colleagues at Yale, Martina
Droth, Amy Myers, and all of my departmental colleagues, especially
Jennifer Raab, the professor of American art who really
specializes in this material. Most of all, picking up
on what Mark just said from the students,
it’s normally the case of the professor actually
instructs the students, but at Yale, it’s the
other way around. You actually learn
more from people like Julia Lum who gave
such an extraordinary talk yesterday and her many the
cohort of wonderful contemporaries. The only other thing I’d
like to say before I start is that every image that
I show today, I think with a couple of
exceptions will be in the exhibition that’s coming
to London in the summer. So you can see the real thing, and the full caption
material is available on the Mets website, so I haven’t
put little titles under everything. The only thing that is not coming is the Borghese Gladiator,
which is in Rome and is in Louvre and
it’s not coming, but apart from that,
we got everything. Without further ado, let me
introduce you to the galleries of American painting and sculpture
at the Metropolitan Museum. A sacred space in which landscape paintings act as
icons of the nation. Two redoubtable ladies of the
Gilded Age frame the long Vista. We move through the enfilade
of galleries as if processing through a cathedral heading
inexorably towards the altar. There, enshrined by architecture,
but also clad in its original frame made in New
York in 1836 is Thomas Cole’s view from Mount Holyoke
Northampton Massachusetts after a thunderstorm known
as The Oxbow of 1836. It stands as a cherished
emblem of American art. Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1908, this work
has become iconic. There it is, closer up, and
we’ll look at it some more. Identified in 1986 as a vision
of an American paradise. It has attained the status of a pure
emanation of national identity. If we look closely at the
foreground, there, we can discern a small figure, the figure
of the artist, Thomas Cole. He’s been working for some time,
sketching the view before him with bold strokes of oil paint upon a canvas propped up
on a portable easel. He turns away from his
work for a moment, and we confront him face to face. His hand poised in midair holding a brush loaded with
fresh yellow paint. If the figure of Cole
is modest in size, the scale of his ambition and his achievement are apparent in the magnificent vista
that surrounds him. His oil sketch has been
transformed in the studio into a grand composition
offering a gazetteer of the glories of American
scenery, in which the epic of modern history is being
played out before our eyes. To the left, the
untamed and pristine wilderness of the mountaintop. Its roiling green foliage
spilling down a bold diagonal path across the canvas with
storm cloud majestic above. In the distance, a great
river winds through fertile grasslands recently brought
under cultivation. The forests have been
cleared and modern civilization has
transformed the landscape. To the left, wilderness
volatility and natural splendor. Before us, the young
citizens of the industrious republic engage– Sorry,
the industrious citizens of the young republic,
could be both, engaged in the pursuit of personal
and a national destiny. The artist is poised at a fulcrum,
at the meeting point of nature industrialization past and
present, sublime and picturesque. After yesterday’s
discussion, I would say to the left of Thomas Cole, the Anthropocene and to the right at whatever it was that
went before that. These binaries structured
Thomas Cole’s life experience and shaped
his artistic vision, and I shall claim
today that there also fundamental to landscape
painting as a genre. I propose Thomas Cole as a
paradigmatic figure today at the Paul Mellon Center for studies
in British art because he has until now had no place whatever
in the study of British art but has existed rather in an entirely
separate discursive space. He’s habitually referred to as
the father of American landscape painting, although father of
the Hudson River School, which is a magnificently spurious entity
beloved of American scholars and their public, which has no
historical existence whatever. This allegedly protean
even priapic role, I shall argue has led to a total
misreading of Cole’s work. A misreading that is symptomatic
of a wider problem in discourses about landscape, where nation
remains the key defining concept. After his death at the
age of 47 in 1848, Cole’s friend, the
poet William Cullen Bryant, eulogized
his departed artist friend as, “Unmistakably American.” Here they are seen
together in Asher Brown Durand’s memorial
painting kindred spirits. Cole stands with Bryant
among the glorious scenery of Kaaterskill Clove
near Catskill New York. When this painting
recently sold, was sold by the public collection
at The New York Public Library to the
private collection of the owner of
Walmart, Alice Walton but then placed in
her private museum in Arkansas, it caused a significant controversy indicating
the status of this work as a benchmark
of national identity. I’m very glad to say that the museum
Crystal Bridges is very graciously lending the work to our show so you
can see it in London this summer. Cole’s name along with
that of Bryant is curved into a tree
trunk in the lower left hand corner of the composition, suggesting not only a
kind of rural vandalism with which we’re all
too familiar but also an organic connection
between these two men and the Hudson
Valley, a place beneath the bark of American civilization. For decades, Cole was celebrated
thus as a progenitor, even though his work seemed
soon to belong to a past era. Henry Cooke Brown’s posthumous
marble bust was made actually from a daguerreotype type by Matthew
Brady after calls death, obviously. The two objects together
suggest Cole’s presence on the very threshold
of American maternity and insistently contemporary medium, the daguerreotype serving
as a model for an ancient form portrait busts and
of course the comb-over remains a deeply
regrettable art historical phenomenon at any
period in history but there we are, that’s
just Tom Cole for you. Cole’s reputation disappeared into obscurity after his
death but emerged again in the 1960s in the work of
excellent scholars such as Allan Wallach and Angela Miller where he’s
returned as a subject of serious scholarship almost
unknown unfortunately outside the United States. There is a significant problem
with this historiography because it tends to neglect and the
enshrining of his work at the Met underpins this, it tends to
neglect what I believe is a key fact that Thomas Cole was born
in Bolton, Lancashire in 1801. The son of a strikingly
unsuccessful textile entrepreneur in the early years of the
industrial revolution. This superb lithograph
to which I return repeatedly as it’s one
of my favorite objects in the history of art
represents the town in 1848, the year of
Cole’s death, in fact. The simple fact of Cole’s origin
demands a repositioning of this artist which might also recast him
not as the creator of American landscape painting Ex Nihilo but as
an embodiment of a transatlantic exchange implicated in visual and
cultural traditions from Europe. Also, profoundly responsive to the natural and cultural
changes that were taking place both in the old world and the new world at
the time he lived. He is in short a hybrid figure. In celebrated writings, Paul Gilroy
and Joseph Roach have identified the Black Atlantic as a space of
cultural and performative exchange. One that connected
London and New Orleans, Kingston Jamaica with the ports of the Ivory Coast and
with the mainland of Great Britain and
the United States. The African-American experience of the Atlantic world
remains absolutely unique marked as such by the incomparable trauma
of chattel slavery. I don’t want to say anything
that in any way challenges that. The trans-regional circulatory
model developed in African-American studies, in
the black Atlantic, might be used to offer a new account
of American art as a whole in which the narrative
becomes one of syncretism and hybridity, one of exchange
rather than an exception list celebration of difference
from a European norm which deals in center and periphery
arguments wherever you place the center and wherever
you place the periphery. So to see American art, there it
is, as one node within the flux of an Atlantic world rather than
as an emanation of a national consciousness, better accounts
for the complex allegiances and deep ambivalences of Thomas
Cole’s landscape paintings. Such a view might transform
him from being an important North American painter into
being a global figure. Perhaps we might use the term white
Atlantic for want of a better one to indicate the way in
which circulation across these spaces took place. It’s a white Atlantic has a history which is not yet
emerged although I pay tribute to Jennifer
Roberts for opening up this space with her own work. So rooted is nationalism
within the very fabric of our discipline and
it’s institutions. Cole, I want to argue today drew
on his experience of life and his observation of historical processes
on two continents utilizing landscape painting as a site
for the analysis and critique of industrial modernity at the
very moment of its formation. I should say now this paper is a
result of two collaboration’s as Mark has already kindly
suggested one between myself as a historian of
British art, the art of the British Empire with the
curator of these galleries. The curator American
paintings and sculpture the Metropolitan Museum, Betsy
Kornhauser that collaboration will result in this
exhibition shown at the Met and the National Gallery
Thomas Cole’s journey. The other one which has been
formative for me as been working with Jennifer Raab Julian Forrester
and two Yale grad students, Sophie Linford and Nick Robbins
to rethink the impact of British prints culture on
Thomas Cole and his generation. That’s the exhibition
picturesque and sublime which will be at
Thomas Cole’s house. What I present today is the
result of conversations between groups rather
than as of solo effort. We want to rethink Thomas
Cole as an unmoored figure, transregional,
transnational, whose complex journeys
back and forth in life and art unsettle
nationalist conceptions. By putting British and
American paintings in the same place, it seems so
obvious very rarely happens. The same physical space
these exhibitions force a reassessment of Atlantic exchange as a visual and cultural
phenomenon and raise significant issues around the relationship of
landscape ecology and cultural identity, which are urgently present
in the political world today. I want to begin by putting
Sara Turner and Amy Concannon at home because we have two
Lancastrian in the room. I want to acknowledge that and we’ll
get to the reasons why in about 30 seconds by showing
the most furious photograph of Bolton in 1900. The reason I do this
is to indicate that the geography from which Thomas Cole came was one of deep
valleys with industrial factories and intense urbanization. Then moorland landscapes surrounding
them, wild moorland landscapes. This is a photograph
from around 1900. This interaction between industry in the valley, then a natural
world in the highlands around was celebrated
first in a painting memorably discussed by
Steve Daniels, leads by J. M. W. Turner
watercolor of 1816. It’s really in this landscape
setting that Turner encapsulates so brilliantly
that Cole emerged from. Cole was a boy of 15 when this was
painted living only 45 miles away. This is Leeds however and I
want to get Yorkshire into this just because the church where
I come from just to show that it exists and the towns, in fact,
were connected by turnpike roads such as that that you can
see in the right foreground. Unlike Bolton, Leeds
was packed tight with factories, workshops
and terrace houses. It lies in the valley with
moorland beyond where industrial smoke and the natural cloud cover,
blend inextricably together. Turner asks us to muse on a
profound question without, in this image, I think,
offering us an answer. Do we see before us here in
1816 a providential turn of events among a chosen people,
a vision of progress itself. Or is it industrial
revolution emerging in front of Turner’s eyes nothing
but a blackening of England’s pristine countryside, a debasement of its once
proud rural populace. What is the meaning of these figures
in the foreground of Turner’s works? Before ever he set foot in
America, Thomas Cole had witnessed these questions playing themselves
out in the north of England. They would preoccupy
him for the rest of his life, transposed
to the new world. In the United States, these
processes of historical transformation would be even
more violent starting later they moved faster, more
fearsome in their environmental ravages whose results are
all too visible today. The center of Bolton where
Cole’s family lived, this map of 1824 shows it quite well, was
dense with alleyways and yards, overcrowding was endemic,
sanitation, terrible, disease rampant, the supply of fresh
water limited and compromised. This fantastic chromolithograph made
from a top of a factory chimney, by an artist called Selim Rothwell and then reproduced
and widely circulated in chromo form, gives a sense of the
town as it was when Friedrich Engels described it with some sarcasm as the masterwork of
English manufacture. No, it’s going closer because I just love this image so
much, there we are. When Thomas Cole was
baptized in the Independent Protestant Dukes Alley
Chapel, the baby was carried outside and would
have seen a sawmill, a flax mill, a graveyard,
and this foundry. They were right outside
where he was baptized. Central to the town’s economy
was the making of cotton cloth. Bolton’s damp cool climate
is ideal for spinning and weaving, and the town
holds a special place in the history of
industrialization as the home of Samuel Crompton,
inventor of the mule. A technological innovation
allowing weaving to move from domestic
to factory production. At the time of Cole’s childhood,
these exact manufacturing techniques were suddenly displacing
whole categories of traditional skilled, this traditional skilled
labor force causing occupational groups to be cast suddenly
from prosperity to poverty. Early in 1811, while Cole was a
child in Bolton, the government in London received petitions
from the town complaining of high food prices and wages
that quote scarcely afford the necessaries of life and
predicting fearful violence. The following year, unrest
broke out under the banner of Luddism an anti-industrial
movement responsible for campaigns of arson and machine breaking,
aimed at the protection of traditional rights and privileges
of the manual laborer. Bolton became the focus
of national attention in April 1812 when on the outskirts of the town the West Horton Mill within within yards
of a small weaving business run by Cole’s cousin, John
Pendlebury was burned to the ground because weaving by steam had forced the local handloom
weavers into poverty. Scenes of the apocalyptic sublime,
the inferno of this burning factory that was remembered for
years in Bolton, still be written about in the local paper in 1885,
surely, I think would remain in Cole’s mind and would preoccupy
him in some of his finest works. The mythical leader of the
movement, Captain Ned Ludd, appeared in a hostile
caricature- is this political? It’s a kind of political
intervention here. There we are. Wait till later, you’ll
find even more -appeared in a hostile caricature based
directly on the West Horton mill incident and there’s
only one remaining surviving copy in the British Museum
it’ll be in the show. Once again we see the high moors
behind the industrial scenes in the valley below, but this
time the town is in flames. If we look more closely at the image
we see militiamen in hot pursuit in blue jackets, but towering over
the whole scene is the bizarre figure of Ned Ludd himself clad
in a calico dress made from the cheap brightly colored printed
cotton textiles made in the mill. The intention, of course, was
to ridicule and defeminize Ludd and his army by
linking rebellious textile workmen to the female
consumers of the fabrics they produced, but the effect of
the print is menacing indeed. The face of neglected industrial
underclass bent on revenge. The middle-class
Cole family belonged to the dissenting traditions of Protestantism and in the
flames of the Luddite rebellion, many saw signs of the end of the
world or at least the cyclical distraction of evil empires as
described in the Old Testament. A theme to which Cole would return
a quarter of a century later. Doubtless, the hellfire and
brimstone sermons he heard on a Sunday morning, would
have drawn parallels with scenes of damnation such
as Belshazzar’s feast, a narrative painted by Cole’s
contemporary John Martin. The picture now in the Yale
Center for British art also a dissenter also
from an industrial city. This work and another,
both will be in the exhibition together do
Luther Boggs demonic vision of Coalbrookdale at
Night is another nod to Steve Daniels for a
brilliant article on this. These kinds of images underline
the relational continuity between industrial flames
and the flames of hell. When Thomas Cole’s father urbane and impractical failed
to make his fortune as a textile manufacturer,
the family found themselves on the verge of poverty and the young Thomas in
1815, found himself working in Chorley as an
engraver, carving wood patterns into the
blocks that would be used for printing
patterns on calicoes. He was in short of
a factory laborer. Although we know nothing
of Cole’s personal work in the factory its products
likely resemble these. It’s worth noting
that the raw cotton was the product of
course, of the slave economy of the southern
states of the US where he would end up
living and a vividly colored geometric
block printed designs of calicoes derive
from Indian textile imported to London
through the Mercantile Networks of the East India company. So in the fastness of provincial
Lancashire at 14, Cole was already enmeshed in global
networks of trade and empire. Again, he could watch painful
progress of history. The innovations of Robert
Peel, the grandfather of the future prime minister
known as, Parsley Peel, for reasons I can talk about
later, near Bolton in 1810 we’ll look at Robert Peel’s
order book of 1810 here. Transformed calico
printing from a hand technique to super
highly-skilled to a machine technology rendering
yet another group of the skilled labors, the
printers, redundant. According to a highly romanticize
biography written after his death, the young Cole, a solitary youth,
would escape when his work ended in the factory and climb high into the
local moorlands whose power over the romantic imaginations is so
clear, I think of Wuthering Heights. A closer literary analog is found
in John Keats’ seventh sonnet of 1817 the work of a young man born
only six years before Thomas Cole. O Solitude if I must
with thee dwell let it not be among the
jumbled heap of murky buildings, climb with me
to the steep nature’s observatory whence
the Dell its flowery slopes, its rivers
crystal swell may seem a span, let me thy vigils
keep amongst boughs pavilion where the deer’s
swift leap startles the wild bee from the
fox-glove belle. It’s worth saying the phrase
kindred spirits which was used for Darrin’s portrait of
Cole posthumously is also from the same poem. It seems to me that Cole’s
entire creative output, his self-narration, his
project, was structured by this fundamental trope to
withdraw from murky buildings into nature amongst
boughs pavilions the wild the binary of wild versus
cultivated timeless versus modern is, of course, the
underlying structure of The Oxbow and again, I want
to stress a structuring trope of landscape as a
genre of representation. A short journey then took
the impecunious family to Liverpool, where Cole at
16 became an apprentice in an engraver’s shop and
there surely, he became immersed in the print
culture of the period. Through engravings aquatints
and mezzotints, he had the opportunity we believe, can’t
prove it, to absorb the main compositional tropes and
expressive effects of English landscape art of the period such
as this work by Paul Sandby. I think Sandby is significant
here because as the engraver of a major pre-revolutionary
and pan-imperial collection the Scenographia Americana,
Sandby played an inaugural role in the creation of an
American picturesque, but it was his travels to Wales which
produced three volumes of refined aquatints that provided
the armchair traveler with the kind of visual treatise
on landscape aesthetics by laying out a wide range of
possible compositional tropes. I’m showing you Llangothlin
in the county of Denby from 1776, such
prints could certainly be purchased across
the British Empire and were widely available
in New York City. This example is notable for the
dramatic bulks of a hillside to the rights crowned with
sunlight bursting through clouds. Distant mountains with rising mists,
shimmering water in the foreground. Whether Cole absorbed it
from this particular source or one of the myriad of other
sets of picturesque prints, it seems to me that these
were the compositional devices that were taken by
Cole across the Atlantic. Indeed, it can be argued
that British topographical prints taught Thomas Cole how
to see the Hudson Valley. So to his most important journey
from Liverpool to Philadelphia, where the family arrived in
1818 and Cole again, was apprenticed to an engraver but
in Philadelphia, he probably encountered landscape paintings
maybe for the first time. This would be by another
recent immigrant from England, Joshua
Shaw who exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy
of Fine Arts where we know Cole could
have seen his work. Trained in London and
Bath, Shaw understood the conventions of the
topographical view. This is a typical of his rather
formulaic work, a work of 1819, one of his first American paintings
that recently acquired by The Met. Shaw published a
picturesque views of American scenery in
which he declared in the preface asserting his new found identity, Shaw had only
been there a couple of years, that our
country, the United States, abounds with
scenery comprehending all the varieties of the sublime, the beautiful and the
picturesque in nature. The vast regions of the republic
present to the eye a wild grandeur unsurpassed by any of the boasted
scenery of any other country. Now, the picturesque views that
are made expertly after Shaw’s designs by John Hill, another
expat, in fact show none of that. It’s an entirely generic
scene, very, very difficult to say that
wasn’t in Gloucestershire although I maybe wrong
but it seems to me that this is anodyne
formulaic work and it was left to Cole
to fulfil the larger project announced in
picturesque views of American scenery to
create a distinctive American mode of landscape painting. In 1823, Cole begun his
transformation from artisan to artist and a sketchbook gives
a sense of his dilemma. The patches of color you
see here are trials of natural dyes like
chicory with lime water and alum to be used in
his father’s latest doomed venture, a floor
cloth manufacturing. For the same period comes
this extraordinary drawing depicting a tree stump. It’s gnarl torso strangely animated. It’s roots are uncovered uncannily suggesting a human form
in prefiguration of those blasted trees
that are such a tragic protagonist on the
left of The Oxbow. Cole’s energetic penwork
seems to conjure up three-dimensionality
with calligraphic lines moving in disciplined
parallel, the hallmark of hand-trained
reproductive engraving. Cole once again witnessed a
scene of radical economic and social transformation when he
arrived in New York City in 1825. On the 25th of October that year,
the Erie Canal opened linking the Hudson River with
Lake Erie and ensuring that New York, not Philadelphia or Boston, became the nation’s preeminent economic center providing a nexus between the Midwest, the
Northeast and the rest of the world. It’s new found energy can be
seen in this aquatint of South Street by another British
expatriate artist, William Bennett. The Hudson is now a great commercial artery, regularly
plied by steamships. The Hudson Highlands nearby had
for decades been celebrated in literature but the visual
arts had done nothing with them until in the early 1820s,
another ambitious print series, the Hudson River Portfolio was
begun by artist William Guy Wall. Recently arrived from Ireland,
this artist represented an ambitious grafting of
American landscape into the familiar formulae of the
British picturesque, but it’s what Thomas Cole did next
that is really interesting. In 1825, he made his first
annual pilgrimage to the Hudson Highland and
the Catskill Mountains and produced a group
of works that indicate a sudden and unexpected
artistic transformation. To take one example, here
it is, I’ll describe it. Kaaterskill Falls is an
astonishingly radical image confronting the viewer
with horizontal bands of rock and a brilliant shock
of unmistakably American fall foliage in its full
chromatic richness. The waterfall’s slightly off-center pounding the rock
with explosive force. Turbulence is also stirring
in the clouds above. There’s no peaceful
resolution of the vista as in a traditional
landscape painting. Our eye is arrested, our gaze
stops dead in its tracks and after comprehending the
vastness of the scene, the viewer- I’m sorry for those of you who
are over there, you can see right in the middle, the tiny
figure of a Native American. A poignant symbol both of a
long established culture and of its banishment from
these hereditary lands. There were no such
people left in Catskill, New York at this time and a uniquely American presence
which has no analogue in European landscape painting. The wildest spurious sign
of persisting indigeneity is problematic but
nonetheless present. Cole carefully removed all
the signifiers of settler colonialism such as the viewing
platform and the guesthouse that were clearly visible
from this position at the already famous tourist spot
of Kaaterskill Falls in 1826. After four years of mounting
success in New York City, Cole made a significant choice to
return to Europe on a grand tour. First, to the center of modern
landscape painting, London and to the traditional heartland
of European culture in Rome. This was his second
Atlantic crossing and one which surely portended
both a historiographic, a critical and perhaps a
psychic crisis, as well as offering huge potential
professional dividends. Cole’s friend, Bryant, was worried
that the artist, after only a decade in the new world,
might forsake it altogether and wrote this poem, “Thine eyes
shall see the light of distant skies: Yet, Cole! thy heart
shall bear to Europe’s strand. A living image of thy
native land such as on thy own glorious canvas lies. Lone lakes, Savannah’s where
the bison roves, rocks rich with summer garlands,
solemn streams, skies where the desert eagle
wheels and screams, spring bloom and autumn blaze
of boundless groves. Fair scenes shall greet thee where
thou goest fair but different. Everywhere the trace of men,
paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the lowest glen to where life
shrinks from the fierce Alpine air. Gaze on them till the
tears shall dim thy sight but keep that earlier
wilder image bright.” Bryant is struggling to
inscribe Cole within a discourse of American
exceptionalism but of course he’s
using the language of English romantic poetry to do so. He’s trying to tie the artist’s powers to the
distinctive identity of the American landscape but Cole left
for Europe in the summer of 1829. Just over a decade after
first arriving, he came to Portsmouth, took a
post-chaise to London and like all of us, he
was there on the last day of the Royal Academy
Summer Exhibition. Like everyone in this room, he was there on the last day of the show and he said, “I want
to be in time to see the exhibition at Somerset House. He hurried to London and was
able to see one painting which I believe had a transformational
effect on his oeuvre and that was John Constable’s great Hadleigh
Castle which we have shown in the exhibition for the first
time alongside Cole’s own work. The motif of its ruinous
tower, symbolic both of personal and
societal collapse as Michael Rosenthal has taught us, haunted Cole for the
rest of his life. Constable’s painting, a
meditation on what he saw as the shattering of
traditional English values and virtues in the hands
of townsmen and liberals with the onset to democracy
deeply affected Cole. His later work is full of,
sometimes, as in this case rather unfortunate
but nonetheless full of paraphrases of this
idea of the tower as a kind of metaphor for
personal and social tragedy. There was, of course, a bigger
beast in the London art world. That day, 29th of June at the
Royal Academy Cole jotted down excited sketches of
Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus by J. M. W. Turner, writing
underneath his sketch “Turner” as if the thing could
be by anyone else. He then followed up this experience
by presenting himself on the 12th of December 1829 into
Turner’s private gallery on Queen Anne Street. Cole was clearly impressed
by one work in particular which he continued to
reference in attempted emulation throughout his
career, the massive Snow Storm: Hannibal and His
Army Crossing the Alps. Cole referred to it in his
notebook as a sublime picture with a powerful
effect chiaroscuro. The visit was not
altogether a success. Cole wrote, “I had expected
to see an older man with a countenance pale with thought
but I was entirely mistaken. He has a common form and a
common countenance, and there is nothing in his appearance or
conversation indicative of genius. He looks like a seafaring man,
a mate of a coastal vessel and his manners were in
accordance with his appearance. I can scarcely reconcile my mind to the idea that he painted
those grand pictures.” Of course, we know
what Turner was like because we’ve all seen Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s brilliant film so, probably Cole might
have been a bit right but Turner’s work moved far beyond the range of Cole’s
conservative imagining. “Rocks should not look
like sugar candy nor the ground look like
jelly,” Cole grumbled into his notebook even as he
desperately emulated Turner in his own
sketches as you can see. Cole also took the opportunity
to visit the great collections of London seeing for the first
time old masters at the– There were none in New York at this
time on public show visiting the Dulwich picture gallery,
certainly the new National Gallery housed in the pell-mell residence
of John Joseph Angerstein where Cole absorbed the influence of
Claude Lorrain for the first time from paintings he’d seen of
course many prints, carefully noting the mill and the Seaport
as great exemplary works. Amazingly his annotated
thumbed copy of Oakleys guide to the gallery
survives as a great source. Like all artists of his day he paid
homage to the Parthenon sculptures. That’s Cole’s drawing
the famous Elgin marbles installed at
the British Museum since 1817 to attempt to make up for the academic art
education he lacked. London also offered other seductions
for the eye which would be significant for Cole
such as Burford’s panorama in Leicester Square. Somewhere in relation to that more popular image making
is the artist John Martin who could inhabit
a position between elite and popular culture, employing the vocabulary of the
apocalyptic sublime and I think Martin Myronis is here who did a wonderful
exhibition of Martin recently which drew these ideas out. To articulate biblical
tales Joshua commanding the Sun to stand still for
example for a mass audience. This was a role that Cole
himself undoubtedly coveted. He also turned his attention
to the landscapes of the land in which he’d been born. He went to the Lake District
stopping in Lancashire on the way noting the familiar
outline of the Langdale Pikes. He drew windmills at
Nottingham but turned his back on the town’s
modern textile industry. He toyed with a view of London
from regents park and he was particularly interested in the
ancestral home of Lord Byron, Newstead Abbey, he admired Byron’s
poetry and shared his romantic fascination for the great arcs
of historical rise and fall. This stormy vision of
Byron’s home which formed the basis for a lost
oil painting executed in London will be in
the- the drawing will be in the exhibition,
the wash drawing. Atlantic circulation was
freighted still for Cole with a logic of
center and periphery. The British art world
treated him with disdain. He keenly noted the instructions for submitting work to the
British institution and pulled out all
the stops creating the grandest picture I have ever painted, a tornado
in the wilderness, another precursor to
the Oxbow very clearly but also a kind of
echo of a work he’d seen by Salvatore Rosa known as Augueres. Cole was trying too hard and the
picture was– This is the wrong installation but
just to give a sense of how a painting could be skyed. It was skyed desperately
at the Society of British artists, an
insult Cole never forgot and the work remained
unsold but Cole made a key acquaintance that
of John Constable. He almost certainly visited
the older artists London studio only minutes away
from his own modest digs. There he saw Constable’s oil
sketches private works that achieved celebrity only rarely a century
later these dramatically expressive sketches in which the artist either
worked out his major compositions or captured noted atmospheric
effects with drama and immediacy. Whether Cole learned this
technique directly from Constable through teaching
or not, he soon started to produce a series of
superbly lucid oil sketches which occupied the remainder
of his European tour. This is Thomas Cole’s oil
sketches I’m showing you now. The Italian Campania offered him
like generations of other artists and ideal subject painting quickly
in oils using a paint box. Thomas Cole created luminous
and vibrant sketches that provided him with
the raw materials for years of finished paintings
completed after he returned to his New York
studio years later. In Italy, he also
attended life classes and improved his academic abilities. Cole’s journey had taken him
far from the rule-breaking works he had made up the Hudson
as a naive young painter. His last major work was to sketch in Florence this panoramic
pencil sketch which he transformed
into a meticulous painting which I think shows that Thomas Cole has ceased to be the American painter of the Catskill Falls and has become schooled in the disciplines of
European academic art. Prompted by the illness of his
parents he returned quickly to New York in 1832 and found
the country transformed. He was bent upon addressing
grand themes suggested to him by his tour and was deeply
alarmed by the transformation of the United States under Andrew
Jackson who had been re-elected for a second term just as
Cole landed back in the city. Jackson had fueled a market boom
promoting westwards expansion and he had inaugurated a brutal program of
relocation of indigenous peoples. Here we encounter one
of those uncanny parallels with the present day. This portrait of Andrew Jackson
by Ralph Earle was recently reinstalled in the Oval Office
on the day that President Donald Trump signed an executive
memorandum to expedite the approval process
for the controversial Dakota access pipeline. It appeared again last week, there
it is, as Donald Trump met with Navajo citizens and potentially
insulted them in front of it. Cole interestingly
abhorred what he called the Jackson men and he wrote
despairingly, “It appears to me that the moral
principle of the nation is much lower than formerly”
words we can still share. Jackson’s reshaping
of America focused Cole’s thoughts on a grand artistic scheme rooted in a Byronic vision of
the rise and fall of civilizations. A work that he first conceived
in London in 1829 at the heart of the empire into
which he had been born. The cycle which he titled
the course of empire would be finished only
six years later but already in London in
his sketchbook he knew that it should commence
with a picture of utter wilderness, top left, I’m
quoting Cole now, “The human figures should be
savages.” The second picture should be a sunrise
partially cultivated country here in there
groups of peasants. The third picture should be a
noonday scene, a gorgeous city with piles of magnificent architecture,
a port crowded with vessels, splendid procession et cetera,
et cetera, all that can be combined to show the fullness of
prosperity, wealth and luxury. The fourth should be a
stormy battle, the burning of a city with all
concomitant scenes of horror and the fifth a
sunset a scene of ruins, rent mountains and the
encroachment of the sea. The patronage of the Manhattan
dry goods dealer Luman Reed aloud cold money and time to
focus on this grand scheme. It was incongruously placed above
the fireplace of a domestic home, but it’s nonetheless the most
public and grandest of statements. The title is taken from
verses on the prospect of planting arts and learning
in America 1726, a poem by Bishop Berkeley who agree
appears in jeonse great Bermuda group at Yale
university art gallery. The text is of course Westwood. “The course of Empire takes its way. The first four acts already past. A fifth shall close the
drama with the day. Times noblest offspring is the last. America will be the noblest of the
great empires.” In Berkeley’s poem the ruin of a decadent
Europe is offset by the limitless potential of the American
colonies, but in the intervening century, the American Revolution,
the French Revolution Napoleonic Wars and above all I think the
turbulent social effects of the industrial revolution gave Cole
and his contemporaries a vivid sense of history in the making
and I want to present Cole cycle very briefly here, it’ll be the
conclusion of our exhibition. As the summation and commentary
on his Atlantic journeys, a pessimistic self-portrait
of white Atlantic imperialism informed by a Gebonian vision
of Rome for sure, that’s always been agreed but with its most
immediate referent, which the historiography generally
doesn’t acknowledge, the history of the British Empire at this
moment that most powerful on earth yet a society in throes of
tumultuous economic and social convulsions that call himself
had experienced in Bolton. So the course of empire sees, it
sees Rome after its end Britain at its height and as a warning
for America in the future. The savage state is the
first of the sequence, the rough uncultivated landscape
homage to Salvator Rosa. It introduces the viewer to the
landscape that we will follow. This key image here is the hillside
which appears in all five canvases. It introduces the hunter-gatherers
against which Cole’s– Sorry, the hunter-gatherer
figures who are the ‘savages of Cole’s notes’ but it surely
also alludes to America’s First Nations currently being driven
westward by Andrew Jackson. The Indian Removal
Act of 1830 and this is completed in 1836
but of course, it also alludes to the
kinds of art that Julia Lum discussed
with us yesterday. John Glover’s exactly
contemporary images of Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples painted
at the very moment that the colonial government was as
Julia pointed out yesterday involved in a genocidal or
campaign of violence against them. But for all this, Cole’s
composition is not a scene of otherness,
it’s not one of these Imperial scenes of alterity because the single figure of a bow
man in the foreground whose arrow has killed
a deer strikes a noble pose borrowed from the
Borghese gladiator which Cole might have
seen in the Louvre in 1831 or copied
from a plaster cast. This Huntsman in the foreground
represents a European ancestor figure, in fact if you
look at the beard you can see just such people running around
Brooklyn and/or parts of Hoxton to this day dressed
in similarly bizarre manner. This is in fact a an extended
cultural self-portrait. It’s a portrait of
the Imperial self. The Arcadian or pastoral state
marks the mode of Rossa giving way to that of the
beautiful in homage to the works of Claude such as the mill
that he’d seen in the National Gallery in London, the
landscapes of the Campania too that he’d sketched outside
Rome and it’s very interesting thinking about David Matas
is paper yesterday as to whether in fact this is
the moment of as it were Anthropocene transformation
that Cole is figuring here. How soon does that take place. This is the moment
where human learning is developing a kind of Pythagorean elder happens to be sketching a
theorem in the sand in front of us. Blakey and Rustics are
dancing and singing music and the visual arts are
in their infancy rather charmingly he signs the
painting TC underneath this figure of the child
just learning to to draw. In the background
religion is starting, not Christianity, but pagan
religion through the only identifiable
topographical feature in the whole sequence the
of course Stonehenge which you see — which
of course had featured in James berry and
William Blake as a key note of the romantic
imagination we know all about that from Sam
Smile’s great work. Constable in a visionary late
watercolor which will be shown in our exhibition painted
just after Cole left London saw the present decay of
stone henge the metaphor for Britain’s moral and social
decline, but Cole sees the temple as an emblem of things to come;
a foundation for a future history of architecture and
perhaps of darker forces such as this and I think this is
the key image this is where the Anthropocene question
really enters the entire fable. The cost of human
progress is already being noted and logged in
in many senses in the desecration of nature the
dawn of the Anthropocene is found in the
chopping down of trees. Thomas Cole would later
angrily disavow what he called the dollar
Goddard utilitarians who felled the beloved
trees he watched in the Catskill Valley and painted. Even more ominous, is the
presence of a soldier in some sort of Roman attire
entering the foreground, even at the moment of society’s
infancy that the die is cast in terms of violence
and industrialization. Here we have it Trump Tower- [laughter] – consummation of empire is
painted on a lot god, this is going out live– anyway
everyone’s asleep in America. [laughter] Consummation of empire
is painted on a larger canvas than that of
the other four works. It’s the centerpiece of
the series it represents the vainglorious maturity
of a powerful Empire. The imperial capital
stands astride, it’s a pot so it stands
astride a great river- estuariane river with
the familiar outline of the mountain seen in
all the compositions only distantly visible
now almost entirely covered the landscape
is covered with marble and gold although the
pot plants are really seriously out of control
in this vision. There are references
to the Pallas Athena and Nike, the kind of
emblems that would decorate Imperial
capitals in the 19th century as they had in
classical antiquity. A noonday Sun beats
down on an imperial parade with the Emperor
dressed in red; the vainglorious Emperor
who brings back his loot a kind of reference
surely to Napoleon here. Inevitably, the seeds of
destruction though, are present at this moment of triumph the
excessive population crowding every balcony and parapet some
of them naked if you get close and look at it very, very
salacious minor detail of coals. This implied surely a future
catastrophe, a vast sea of people this invokes the population
theories of Thomas Malthus who in his famous essay of 1798
had predicted mass starvation for Britain if the population
growth remained unchecked. The painting also distills
Cole’s learning from Europe. The composition derives from Claude
seaport of course National Gallery, Turner’s rise of the
Carthaginian Empire which he’d seen in Turner’s studio. That of course prefigured
the decline of the Carthaginian Empire
a companion piece. Turner had already inaugurated the
idea of paired works that equate the inevitable rise and
fall of a city with a kind of moral decay at its heart. Cole’s architectural
elements are drawn from a range of sources
but it’s always seemed to me that the
creamy a fantasy architecture has more in common with the theatrical neoclassical
stucco of Nash’s Cumberland Terrace than
it does with anything surviving in Rome
that’s 1826 only three years old when Cole
arrived in London. Cole’s great waterway it
seems to me is a response to constables the opening
of Waterloo Bridge in 1817, a work begun in 1819
but went through many different forms before it
was exhibited in 1832. It was in Constable studio
probably when Cole visited. Constable’s painting celebrates
the great institutions of the metropolis Somerset House of course, home of the
Royal Academy with the Union Jack but also includes the
short towers that forcibly remind us of the industrial
base that underpinned Britain’s economic success. I think Cole and Constable
shared an early ecological consciousness
that seems to have prompted a deep pessimism
about the irreversibility of this kind of
environmental damage. Consummation likewise features
a bridge and it seems to me this might be a
part of a sort of parodic reworking of London in which
the vainglorious emperor of Cole is a kind of
re-visioning of George the IV. Cole was actually in London for
George fourth’s funeral in 1830 and in Kop Lee’s famous portrait
he’s of course seen wearing red. Surely also, with the elephants
in the procession, there’s a reference to British India the
kind of durbar processions in which the [?] of the East India Company
were borne aloft on glorious pachyderms and Cole’s vision too
includes enslaved Africans. The anti-slavery movement
was in full force when Cole was in London
in 1831 that was the 1831 to 2 was the great Jamaican rebellions reported in
the papers in London. Though slavery only ended
with compensation to the slaveholders in 1838,
in finally an event celebrated in ripping gills
print here that was two years after Cole had
exhibited these paintings. I think there’s a — and
of course in the United States it continued until
three decades later. There’s a distinct sense
that slavery is a part of the decadence of Empire
in this representation. When the series was exhibited in
New York, the New York Mirror commented, “Mingled with the
triumph of art is the triumph of the Conqueror and with
emblems of peace and religion we see signs of war and the
display of pride and vanity. The ostentatious
display of riches has succeeded to the efforts of virtuous industry and the study
of nature and truth.” There were clearly implications for modern America as well
as reflections of recent British history,
Cole had seen in Bolton the dislocating
effects of speculative and unplanned industrialization. He saw what the osten– he saw the ostentatious wealth
of profiteering textile entrepreneurs and
though he had displayed virtuous industry, he
saw a few rewards. New York the Empire City, was
already showing signs of Imperial hubris and a pattern of market
driven speculative boom and bust. In Cole’s parallel, such excesses
must inevitably portend nemesis. In destruction the city has lost
to chaos, a headless Borghese gladiator again symbol of
violence overlooks the scene. Cole wrote, “The smoke and
flame of prostrate edifices is the key to this work,”
a recollection surely of the burning factories
of Bolton in 1811 or the violent riots mounted
by the followers of Ned Ludd. Ned Ludd who, of course, in
that print, is the Borghese Gladiator in calico, something
that is worth thinking about. The vortex of swirling clouds
in the city as it declines is, of course, referential homage
to the great Turner Hannibal. In the final canvas, desolation,
the ruins of the imperial city. Recall Rome. A favorite Turnerian
and Claudian subject. Cole’s work takes on the aspect of an ecological as well
as a political parable. This is interesting in relation
to our conversations yesterday. Does he suggest that actually nature
can recover from this onslaught? He shows the birds returning and the
animals returning to the scene. Humanity is extinct in this vision. After the pinpoint
precision of Consummation, his application of paint
here has returned to a more generous,
natural softness, paying homage to the oil sketches
of John Constable. Look again at the
composition and its one final reworking of
the great meditation on decline and ruin, Hadley Castle,
that had so impressed Cole in 1829. The onset of democracy
for Constable as for Cole, the rule of the
vulgar has undermined all that is valuable and
desolation becomes a vision of the future
as much as of the past. Later generations would
be more specific about this apocalyptic futureology. I do need a slide for Gustave
Doré’s New Zealander, contemplating the ruins
of London in 1872. John Aims Mitchell’s The
Last American of 1889, looking at the remains
of the Brooklyn Bridge. Of course, the classic of all time, the great Planet of
the Apes of 1968. This is where we will end up after
the cycle of greed, exploitation, Luddism, slavery, imperialism has
lead us from hubris to nemesis. The course of empire represents
a summation of global journeys rather than a local
meditation on American history. By refusing the local and
national particularly, it insists that the nation state is not
the key unit for artistic creativity or art historical
analysis, rendering such categories as British art
and American art defunct. Cole’s own identity as
the father figure of American landscape
painting with its alleged trajectory towards an
enthusiastic endorsement of manifest destiny
seems far from secure. He was, after all, an economic
migrant, the victim of cultural and economic forces of displacement
over which he had no control. His love of the American wilderness
was tempered by his skepticism about the Jacksonian market economy
and the onset of American empires. Cole moved between empires,
modern and historical, haunted by recollections of industrial
Lancashire, skeptical of contemporary Britain,
yet enabled by the lessons he had learned from its
artists and collections. I just want to conclude
and I know my time is up, but I want to conclude
with one discovery, which I think in a haunting
way actually speaks to the histories that
we are now living in. That was made possible
by being at the MET and having the chance
to look, unframed, at the course of empire
consummation from the New York Historical
Society and the Oxbow. It’s worth saying that when Cole
was painting this work in 1836, he realized he couldn’t get it
finished in time for exhibition. He laid aside Consummation of Empire
and turned to a sketch that he’d made some years earlier of the
Connecticut River at Mount Holyoke. He quickly prepared an oil sketch
in very much the manner of John Constable that he’d
learned in London– Sorry, we’ve lost that screen. Anyway, I’ll describe
this as well as I can. These paintings were
on identical sized canvases next to each
other on identical easels in his studio
in the spring of 1836 as the ice melted on the Hudson River, but the MET being the MET, we were able to have these
objects examined by X-radiography, which showed that underneath the Oxbow
is this extraordinary, gestural painting so
similar to the works, the oil sketches of John Constable, but even more fascinating
was the technical examination by Dorothy Mann, the great conservator
at the MET, that revealed in the
under-drawing of this area of the Oxbow certain
lines emerging that do not appear in the final painting. It became clear, on close
examination, if you look here- I’m sorry for those of you that
can’t see this clearly, you can see it in the exhibition
we’ll have a representation of this, that that is a face that
came through very clearly. In fact, it’s the face of the
caryatid in Consummation of Empire. It became clear that
Cole had abandoned an early version of the great Imperial city and
painted on top of it the image of the American landscape. Between the paint layers
of these two– Of this great work, the Oxbow,
we see the emergence of lines of what would
perhaps be understandable as a more industrial, or urban city. Beneath the fertile
fields of the republic, harsh-ruled lines seem to
prefigure the inevitable future arrival under
those arable lands and from within the culture
of modern technologies. Railways, highways,
oil wells, fracking. This perhaps is the
melancholy truth of the Anthropocene, that
the whole story has already begun so early
that by the time we notice it, it’s too
late to change it. The lines are coming through
the landscape to haunt us. Cole write in 1835 just as he was
doing this, “There are those who regret the improvements
of cultivation, but with the improvements of cultivation, the sublimity of the wilderness should
pass away, that the scenes of solitude from which the hand of nature has
never been lifted. They affect the mind with
a more deep-toned emotion than anything that the
hand of man has touched.” It seems to me that, somehow,
intuiting its future status as an icon in this painting,
the Oxbow, that he made, Cole made it, a culminating
statement of his experience of the white Atlantic as a
political and aesthetic unit. In doing so, we really need both
slides, he placed a symbol so vivid and obvious at the middle of this
painting that refined intellects such as yours will probably resist,
but I am obvious enough to see a bloody great question mark
in the middle of this painting. I think that is why Cole
turns to look us in the eye from his Archimedean
point in history. Drawing on his knowledge, his personal knowledge,
of the Industrial Revolution, Cole asks the
question not just of America and Americans, but of the modern
world, how to balance commercial and industrial expansion with the
preservation of the environment. In whose interest should
the nation be governed? Those of investors and
speculators of the present? Or those of citizens of the future? America and Britain are both now in the political hands of
people that Cole called dollar-godded utilitarians
unable to see beyond self-interest,
moving to allow the despoliation of the
environment for quick profit, and for many,
forcing a move from skilled labor to
zero hours contracts that the Luddites would
have recognized. Land and landscape then turn out
to be key areas of contestation in late capitalism as much as in the
era of the Industrial Revolution. Politics and aesthetics
are profoundly entwined now as in the
era of Andrew Jackson. The president of the
United States celebrates the desecration of the wilderness
and publicly disrespects those whose hereditary lands
his nation appropriated and others whose
ancestors it enslaved. While the British
government indulges in deluded nationalism that revives a bankrupt rhetoric of empire and
while British politicians imagine a future in which
Britain is a northern Singapore, a low-wage, unregulated, dystopia that Ned Ludd would have
recognized around him 200 years ago. Cole’s question mark
is very apropos. It asks with due romantic
pessimism, what, if anything, we might do at this late stage to
change the course of empire? Thank you. [applause] Mark: That was fantastic,
Tim, so rich, so impressive. I wonder whether we can immediately
open it out to question? I’ve got a number of questions. David, we’ll start with you. David: Thank you so much, I
thought that that was fabulous. I really enjoyed it. I want to suggest another dialogue,
which is between the course of Empire and Barry’s progress
of human culture and knowledge. Because Barry starts out with
first scene is Morpheus’ [?]. Second one, the [?] is
agricultural and it’s also where you start having your first
evidence of conflict. The third is the Olympian
possession, which is all about architecture and
it’s got a procession. The fourth then takes
you into navigation. That I think is where this starts
to be a kind of departure. It seems to me that that’s part
of– Barry’s story basically is an enlightenment
positive story which has a kind of happyish ending. What Cole does is he starts from the same starting
point, but then a later point in history he’s actually, in a sense, it’s a
post enlightenment. It ends up with a
kind of disillusion. I think that that’s– I don’t know. You could bring those, at least the prints, into your
show, because I think that’s the serial
nature of the paintings is kind of in response to that. Just one other brief comment [?] Tim: That’s great, thank you. David: The Oxbow, it seems to
me it doesn’t go that far. The Oxbow is basically
pastoral and agricultural. I don’t quite see how–
Whereas you seem to be presenting it
as kind of pastoral and industrial, and I don’t quite–
Did I misunderstand something there? Tim: No, but two things,
thank you, first of all. As you would expect from David [?]
this is absolutely the right point. I think the relationship
with Barry is really, really interesting too, and thank you
for drawing it out so well. We had considered that, and
it is the reason that I didn’t include that here was
because, as you rightly point out, the trajectory
of romantic pessimism is very different from what
you find in Barry’s cycle. The idea of a sort of history
which can be told simultaneously in the classical and the
contemporary, which can include both London, the
Thames and Olympus and all of that, is very much in Cole’s
mind, absolutely I’m sure. I’m sure the sequential narration is inspired by seeing
those wall paintings. I think that’s a great point. I think on the other hand that
Cole really did participate in the idea that landscape
could replace and displace history painting. The scale of the figurative
elements in relation to the landscape elements is what
makes it quite different. Although it’s using the same
periods in history to make its point, and the same kind of arc
or a similar arc up to a point. Cole is really closer to another of your topics, which
is Richard Wilson. He’s really invested in
the historical landscape displacing the traditions
of history painting. There’s a kind of disavowal as well. David: [?] Tim: Yes, exactly. Yes, we did get that one. Thank you. As regards the Oxbow, the
sort of juxtaposition of a wilderness image and a scene of
distinctly modern agriculture. Modern agriculture, not
traditional forms of agriculture. The passing out of the land
is extremely geometric. There are very visible forges and a small scale workshop,
that you see lots of smoke coming up
from small scale, you could call it industrial endeavors. It certainly doesn’t
show urbanization or modernity in that sense,
but nonetheless it seems to me– I suppose I’m
reading it kind of proleptically as a harbinger
of that kind of change. You’re absolutely right,
so it’s not there. What’s so fantastic is
that it sort of is there underneath, as we
discovered with the x-ray. Thank you. Moderator: Mathew? Mathew: Thanks, Tim. That’s great. I was interested if you might
be able to see something a little further about
Cole’s possible contacts with other folks who might
count as what Michael Dewey has called transatlantic
radicals people. I’m thinking of the
painter William Russell Birch who comes to
Philadelphia quickly accompanied by his cousin, William Russell, who comes
with Joseph Priestley. William Russell Birch is this
important landscape painter, landscape designer,
translator of the picturesque enamel painter who claims
to have a particular hold through chemical means on
the reputation of Reynolds. He, in London, has trafficked some
500 copies of Payne’s Rights of Man. Is there any contact in Philadelphia between someone like
Cole with William Russell Birch, who is
there in– I think he dies in 1834 or
something like this. Is there information
about those kinds of radical networks of
displaced Brits or others? Tim: No, I would love Thomas Cole to be radical, because then I would had a different subtitle
for my– Transatlantic Radical would have been great. The fact is that Thomas Cole is,
you know, he’s an old Tory snob. His critique of– He would
be– The only person that he manages to establish,
as far as I into it, and it’s not really
documented, but with whom he establishes a kind of
rapport John Constable. His political sympathies are as
it were sort of Federalists, and he’s certainly
not as circulating in any kind of radical [?] Mathew: Isn’t part of your story
that we see a kind of change in his perception of what the early United
States is, or what it can do? Tim: It is, yes, but I think that
comes from a kind of gentlemanly ideal that he shares with
people like Daniel Wodsworth and Robert Gilmore, who were his
patrons who were several generations of money educated land owning
American establishment figures. I wish that he were
reading more widely. It’s exactly the same, and this is the dilemma that I think
we find in Michael’s work on constable,
that here is someone who is creating works of which have genuine visual
originality, which utilize techniques that we
can identify as in many ways radical,
in a sense that they displace tradition
in significant ways. Yet it’s in the service
of a political ideology. A critique of Empire, which
is a critique of liberalism. It’s a critique of the bourgeois. It’s a critique of the
industrial looking back to a golden age of gentlemanly estate management, which is the
way the Cole imagined the world. I don’t think he would have– The
answer is I don’t think there is any connection, but also that period in Philadelphia is hardly
documented at all. Moderator: Hammad? Hammad: Thank you,
that was terrific. One image that really caught my eye was, I think it’s
the Catskill Falls? Tim: Yes. Hammad: It seemed to be the
only vertical orientation in virtually everything
that you showed. I think you use the phrase
no European analog, but that work was screaming Chinese
scroll painting to me. Both in terms of the imagery it was using, the strokes,
even that the trees the way they were
drawn, but also that relationship between man and nature. That was very– That modesty
of the– Particularly the fact that it was the
indigenous figure that is modest. I wonder if when he was going
around the Dulwich picture gallery, he stumbled into
somewhere and saw something. Tim: The interesting
thing about that picture is that it comes from
before the London trip. He has only really seen art in Philadelphia and New
York at that point. I think what you’re
picking up, I love the formal connection
that you’ve made. I think it’s one of the reasons
why that picture is so gorgeous. I do have to say that
picture will not be in our exhibition,
because it is in a private collection of
an extremely well-known person who does not want to lend it. It is a really remarkable object,
but I think the reason it signifies as exceptional is
because it breaks all the rules. It’s an odd size canvas. It’s neither horizontal
nor vertical, it’s more sort of squarish. It doesn’t allow the
eye anywhere to go. It looks bang up against the cliff. Even something like James Ward’s, “Gordale Scar”, doesn’t
do quite that. It allows you somewhere to go. This painting is breaking
the rules because I don’t think Cole had a secure sense
of what the rules are. One of the interesting things about
this show is that it could well be argued, and perhaps
it will by British critics, that the best paintings are the ones before
he came to London, and that actually, in a way, he was most interesting in that regard,
so he’s certainly breaking rules. I don’t know that there’s a smoking
gun that would put him in the same room as a Chinese scroll painting,
but if I find it I will tell you. Moderator: Sarah? Sarah: Thank you. I want to ask you a
question about politics. There are issues to
do with the vertical landscape there are
precedents there in terms of Turner’s work and images of the ruins of Tivoli that
are being produced. It does speak to a tradition. My question is really
about what you will do in terms of presenting Cole
and current politics. You’ve given us a
rather relatable vision of the artist as
someone who is pushing back against that kind
of Jacksonian economics and the politics that come with it. As you’ve just said in
response to questions, that’s a Tori kind of
position that Cole exemplifies which is
kind of ruralizing, it’s based in pastoralist
kind of visions of the landscape, it’s
anti-imperialist from a perspective which is kind
of late 1830 / 19th century; anti-imperialist,
which is conservative and it’s environmentalist.
I wonder how you want to present Cole for perhaps particularly British audiences
in this exhibition, at a time when you might
argue that that very vision of the landscape is what’s
put us in this place. It’s a planterocracy
kind of politics, which is very happy actually to turn and deny commerce whilst
also reaping the benefits of it, that is deploying exactly
those kinds of trobes, how to frame Cole properly actually in
terms of what he’s really doing. Tim: Yes, a good question. It’s of course easy to
agree with Cole that there are certain things
wrong with Empire. It is, however, not the point
of the exhibition to endorse Cole’s vision of the world, and
it most certainly doesn’t do so. The spin that I have
placed on it is not necessarily the spin
that the exhibition will place on this, partly
because that’s a collective enterprise and it’s authored not by an individual but by an
institution which has rather deeper roots in
the– it will be very interesting to see who
writes the labels of the national gallery
actually, I don’t know. The institution does the labels,
so they choose what to say. We lose control of it at that point. At the Met, the labels attempt
to take on an extremely powerful myth, which is the myth
of the Hudson River School, and that’s one big target for
an exhibition in the very institution that invented
the Hudson River School. There’s only so much
one can do with 60 oil paintings, and I do feel
like problematizing nationalism in relation
to visual culture is actually a genuinely
important thing to do. The second thing to
say is that landscape painting problematizes
the relationship between politics and aesthetics over
the terrain of the natural world. That again is something which is
normally naturalized in the setting of art historical display, so
those are two pretty big targets. Also, the other thing to say is that the idea of Cole as an
economic migrant is a really important
political statement to make in New York at
this particular moment. The idea that he’s someone
who didn’t have a choice as to what his destiny was,
he didn’t choose to come to America, he had to go to
America because they were bankrupt and that was their
last throw of the dice. That also is a very,
very powerful political point to make and
controversial at this moment. However, what I do not want to say
is, “Let’s all go back to living in Daniel Wadsworth’s “Montevideo”,
which is what Cole wanted us to do, anymore than in exhibiting
any historical figure you necessarily endorse their solutions
too, or going to a Wagner opera. What we want to do is position him historically and
problematize him and draw out from his work some
of the key issues which link it to the present moment. I think in Britain it’s
really different because he’s actually very, very easy to
position politically in Britain. He’s very difficult to position
politically in America. Sarah: It’s an interesting
problem to do with much of what we’ve been talking about and
hearing about yesterday. Essentially it has to do
with the environment, the politics that come with
that are very wide-ranging and nuanced in their quality,
and that relationship between conservatism and environmentalism
[?] is interesting. Tim: I know there are
other questions, but just to make another point,
there is a distinct connection between Cole,
Church, early photography and the founding of the
national parks, which are under immediate
danger of destruction at this moment, so I’m
prepared to forego a little collusion with Toryism if
anyone thinks it’s worth saving a national park
as a result of this. It’s a strategic withdrawal on the subject of a kind
of class view of the world from Cole,
in order to make these other points that I’ve talked about. Mark: Mark, please
wait for the microphone. Mark in audience: Thank you very much, Tim,
that was a tour de force, truly. In addition to the detail
that you provided so richly and so persuasively,
I was also very taken with the large
historiographical frame that you set out particularly
at the beginning. I wonder if I could ask
you quite seriously to speculate on what we might call the course of the
empire of art history, which I think you’re doing here. While I don’t want to defend the
construction of the Hudson River School, for example, and applaud
your inroads in that direction. I wonder if there has
been a long project of affirmative action,
we might call it, in the history of American
art, the history of other national groups, and
if you think we are actually moving away
from those paradigms and if we should move
away from those paradigms towards something like
global landscape, which I think I picked up that
title as the future. If so, if we are going in that
direction which I think many of us want to go, what happens
to centers for British art? Just to choose a random example. [laughter] Tim: Well, what happens
to centers of British art is that you appoint
an Americanist as the director, and
then they do really interesting exhibitions
for 15 years. I think one of the
dangers of English arts constructs is that it produces many splendors, it’s rooted in 19th century racial theory
and in the end. One of the most comprehensive
single author books on British art was published in Berlin in 1942,
”Dagar Bel Frie” [sic], with the obvious idea that this
constitutes a totality which can be identified and understood and
then invaded and assimilated. Anything that breaks
down those ideas is good, but it doesn’t
mean that by looking at Cole as someone
that passes between places and across
borders and exists in a circulatory system,
that doesn’t mean that I deny the existence of– I use the word British and
American all the time, the whole thing was
based on a comparative study of these two quite
different places, so I think the answer
is that places like the Paul Mellon
Center have, in fact, moved away from we are
not giving a grant to that because it’s
not British enough paradigm, which was
the sort of founding principal of the
center 40 or 50 years ago when it was doing
different things. It’s moved and changed and I think
that’s all of a good thing. I mean, there are
artists who are just British artists and
don’t ever engage with anything else, and I think we
should write books about them too. It’s not sort of exclusionary
the dangers that you have a new canon and that
the only artists that you now look at are kind of border
crossing marginal people, and I think that would
be a ridiculous gesture. It’s got to be additive
rather than a replacement, but thank you for
the question, Mark. Moderator: I think we have to
draw it to a close there, but can I ask you all to thank Tim once
again for a really amazing [?]. [applause] Tim: Thank you.

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