The Architect's Dream Thomas Cole Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Imagine amalgamating 4,500 years of the most renowned eras of architecture that exists and encompass it all in one painting... well that's exactly what Thomas Cole uniquely achieved in 1840. Over 2 metres in width and nearly 1.5 in height this vast oil painting hangs proudly in the Toledo Museum of Art.

At the forefront of this magnificent piece an aloof architect, on a plinth rising through the lower painting, oversees his work on a bed of large, gold bound books depicting perhaps the knowledge he has. Unfurled in his hand appears to be a floor plan of an Ancient Greek or Roman design. Carved into a giant stone block, under the architect and books is the artists name T. Cole. 'For I. Town Arch.' Ithiel Town, a New York architect and patron commissioned Cole to undertake an Ancient Athens landscape so on perusal refused this piece under the words 'it's exclusively architectural.' The male figure seen in the painting possibly being Ithiel himself.

In the far distance of this painting the almost translucent silhouette of a pyramid juts towards the skyline with a glint of sun caressing one side. Situated lower but in front of the pyramids stands an hieroglyphically marked Egyptian temple. Huge pillars adorn this sand stone structure and steps lead down to the obelisked river entrance. Appearing to be moving closer in time and to the middle of the painting a Roman aquaduct sits smartly on top of Dorik and Ionic Greek temples. Areas of greenery break up the monotony of stone and a fountain takes centre stage around the Ancient Greek and Roman area.

Thousands of people in varying guises can be seen accentuating the vastness of the architecture surrounding them. Ornate vessels on the river are arriving onto the shore line bringing colour and activity into this momentous painting. Across the river a gothic style church hides in a forest of tall, forbidding foliage. Light from the sun can be seen glowing through the stunning stain glass windows allowing the corner of this painting to become slightly illuminated.

The Architect's Dream is encased in a stone archway with luxurious green and red edged curtains completing the framework and drawing the viewer cleverly in. During Thomas Cole's life, having been born in England, moved to America and regularly travelled to France and Italy was inspired by many architectural artists including Claude Lorrain and JMW Turner. Similar architectural, oil on canvas, artwork by Cole is in his series of 5 paintings – The Course of Empire showing creation through to destruction and ruins.

The Architect's Dream in Detail Thomas Cole