Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Thomas Cole (1801 - 1848)
Expulsion. Moon and Firelight, c. 1828
Oil on canvas
91,4 x 122 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Landscape was no longer merely descriptive but had become a vehicle for expressing religious and moral meanings and for representing man's vulnerability in the face of nature and God's powers over this nature.

This painting is linked to two biblical paintings which Cole exhibited in 1828 : Paradise (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth), and The Expulsion from Paradise (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). (below)

Note the contrasts between the moonlight and the daylight, the fire from the volcano and the water, the earth and the air, emphasising the conventions of the Sublime.

Thomas Cole (1801 - 1848)
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden 1828
Oil on canvas 100.96 x 138.43 cm (39 3/4 x 54 1/2 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Of this painting, Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) says:

"[H]is scene of Adam and Eve dwarfed by promontories of terrifying proportions recalls British painter and printmaker John Martin's illustrations for John Milton's Paradise Lost, which was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Cole's dramatic use of light streaming through the rocky portal to Paradise is clearly reminiscent of Martin's history paintings.

In his 1835 Essay on American Scenery, Cole would describe the beauties of the American wilderness and its capacity to reveal God's creation as a metaphoric Eden.

He considered European scenery to reflect the ravages of civilization, for which extensive forests had been felled, rugged mountains had been smoothed, and impetuous rivers had been turned from their courses.

In contrast, Cole believed the American wilderness to embody a state of divine grace and lamented that the signs of progress were rapidly encroaching.

In his Expulsion, Cole vividly portrays both Paradise and a hostile world replete with the consequences of earthly knowledge. These opposing realms meet near the center of the canvas. The profusion of flora and fauna evokes the beauty and harmony of Eden. Outside the gate to Paradise, Adam and Eve are cast into an abyss marked by blasted trees, desolate rocks, and an ominous wolf."