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The Oxbow

"View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts after a Thunderstorm", Thomas Cole Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908 (08.228) Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About this Image

When Thomas Cole painted the view from the summit of Mount Holyoke in 1836, the site was already famous. Of the hundreds of paintings, prints, and photographs made of the site from the eighteenth century to the present, Cole’s is the best known. More than a topographic representation, it conveys the transformation of the American landscape in his day as wilderness yielded to agricultural settlement. The composition is divided diagonally. On the storm-swept left are the thick woods and craggy rocks of wild American nature. Moving to the right, we see the next phase in the advance of American civilization: a sunny, pastoral landscape of snug homes and well-tended fields. The artist includes himself in the scene, on the wilderness side. His white umbrella juts across the lower right side of the Oxbow, and he is seated at his easel, nearly hidden among the rocks, a little to the left of the umbrella. Cole places himself as a witness to and chronicler of the passing of the American wilderness.