Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The West, Wilderness in the American Life and Imagery

I have chosen  a painting by Thomas Cole: View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Masschusetts -after a Thunderstorm,1836. 

This picture was painted in 1836 by Thomas Cole, who traveled to Northampton, Massachusetts and tried to paint a realistic representation of the American West.

The image is in keeping with Thomas Coles' other work, with fantastic scenery, but this image also has an ugly appearance too. This is what makes the image unique and amazing as it suggests that the West is represented in America as being mysterious and unusual.

This painting is symbolic as it has Thomas Cole himself is in the centre of the picture, which indicates that this image is the representation of the American wilderness, and this makes it much more realistic as well.

The Hudson River has significance as it has the meaning of the dividing line between the East, which is calm and has civilisation, as opposed to the West, which is chaotic and scary. But it also has the meaning of the river itself being the representation of wilderness, as a river can be calm as well as rough and wild. As it is positioned in the centre of the image, it demonstrates what the picture is supposed to mean unintentionally.

The storm is an interesting part of the image as it isn't clear if it is going East, North, South or West. The storm itself signifies that it is not peaceful to be in the wilderness and there is doubt as to whether humans and the American landscape can live peacefully together.

The Hudson River image can also be seen as an idealistic view of the American wilderness and landscape as its appearance is considered perfect, which makes it questionable as to whether it is a realistic representation of the American West.

Thomas Cole captures America's natural beauty by painting different types of trees, rolling hills, mountains and an elegant river. In contrast however, the image also has the realities of extreme environments which the artists often encountered, whilst exploring these new lands of the American West. This is shown with the messy Western side of the painting, including the trees, bushes, rocks, clouds and the dark and stormy skies.

The skies also illustrate that the unknown and what is to come for not just the travelers but also for America in the future as well, as it is represented as dark, depressing and mysterious. It also resembles the Native Americans and the Europeans in the West too. This is because there were many wars, and the black storm is suggesting that the West isn't all glamorous, but is is also dangerous and people should be careful.

Thomas Coles' image shows themes of romanticism and it does this by using his artwork to make the American wilderness as realistic as possible, especially as many people could not afford to go to these places themselves, so an image of a painting was the only way in which they could know what it was like. This image shows that the America landscape and America in general is represented as "Eden", in relation to "Adam and Eve" in the bible. It is to symbolise that America and the wilderness is a fresh start for humans. The river is a metaphorical line between the old you (East) and the new you (West), which the wilderness allows you to do.

The presence of the man (Thomas Cole) among the wilderness in the picture has a significant meaning. It is indicating that the landscape is so huge, that people "vanish" when they are there, demonstrating that the West is far from Europe or has the same landscapes as Europe, but mean different things to the American people, as well as showing it's greatness.

The Hudson River represents the West interior at the time, from the East Coast to the West; "Manifest Destiny", as the wilderness was the 'unknown' during this time. The image shows the difference between the America which Europeans know and the America that Native Americans can relate to; the wilderness.

Because it it a painting, it isn't always as reliable as a photograph because the painter often interprets the land around them, creating an idealistic version, to make it appeal to people who cannot physically be there.

Thomas Cole 1801-1848:

Thomas Cole.jpg

Grace La Traille


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