Cole's two notable series of paintings are perhaps his signature pieces, namely The Voyage of Life and The Course of Empire. Each individual element of these two groups of work are supreme paintings in their own right, but as a series they are both groundbreaking and also provide the best examples of the artist's imagination and technical abilities. There was a heavenly feel to many of his landscape paintings, with stunning features grabbing the eye such as elaborate waterfalls and wild animals to add a sense of perspective.
This artist proved particularly prolific during his career, producing hundreds of paintings during his own lifetime. He also achieved financial success from his work from a relatively young age, ensuring that he was able to concentrate entirely on developing his technical skills and pushing his ideas as far as he could. Cole also travelled abroad on multiple occasions that again increased his development and varied his artistic influences. He would spend most time abroad in England and Italy, drawing on their traditional techniques and also opening his eyes to art movements that he may not previously have been aware of.
Thomas Cole moved to the United States in his teens when his entire family emigrated. He spent the early years from that period moving around the country looking to establish himself a career. He had a great interest in becoming an artist but it took time to find an opportunity to do so. It was his travels along the Hudson River that initially pricked his interest in landscape painting, having initially completed a number of portraits as he sought to develop a style. He was immediately drawn to the beauty of the landscape in this part of North America and it would inspire him to lead a number of fellow artists who all held a great admiration for this environment.
It was in early 1925 that the artist settled in New York City and it was here that he started to generate a key list of contacts who could help to promote his work. Several established artists purchased some of his landscape paintings and also offered him opportunities to promote his work through exhibitions and other gatherings. Cole became a part of the wider creative community within the city and would start to take influences from forms of literature for the first time. He moved at a great pace to develop his reputation and was soon a well known figure within the circles that he kept. The financial support from his new donors allowed Thomas Cole to then visit others parts of the country and learn more about the varied landscapes of North America.
Cole was a landscape painter, first and foremost, but he also took in scenes of a religious nature from time-to-time. It was immediately after his marriage that this type of content appeared more frequently in his work - see his series on The Voyage of Life as an example of this. Having fully established his own reputation, Cole would now set about enabling a future generation of artists to continue his passion for landscape painting and Frederic Edwin Church was the most talented of these. Church studied under Cole directly from his studio for around two years and it helped to set him on a course to considerable later success.
Thomas Cole's legacy was not just in the brilliance and beauty of his own paintings, but also in the supreme quality of those who followed on from him within the 19th century. The Hudson River School itself is still considered one of the finest and most significant groups of landscape artists in all art history and other members of this famous ensemble included Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. When studying this key period in American art, it is always advisable to start with the paintings of Thomas Cole, as it is from those that everything else would come.