A New Picture Book about the Birth of American Art

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Author and cartoonist Hudson Talbott has delivered a new picture book: Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art (ages 6 – 8). It is an excellent biography  of the painter who founded the first truly American art movement, the Hudson River School.

Born in England in 1801, Cole came to America after seeing industrialization darken the natural beauty of the English countryside. He fell in love with the American wilderness but eventually saw people and commerce encroaching on nature in his adopted land as well. At the same time, in Cole’s trips to Italy he wondered at the Roman Empire and why it rose and fell. Talbot points out that Cole combined these two influences in his first great series of paintings, The Course of Empire. It is a series of five paintings that once made Cole the most famous painter in America.

Cole’s paintings gave people thought as did his later series of eight paintings known as The Voyage of Life. Talbott ‘s book presents both The Course of Empire and The Voyage of Life in the context of Cole’s birth, move to America, and lifespan. The book includes Cole’s journeys on foot across Pennsylvania, his finding love, and much more. The picture book biography traces Cole’s life to show how he created a new school of painting. Roughly two dozen artists have ties to the Hudson River School.

Hudson Talbott did a great job including an amazing amount of information and detail in a short picture book. He did that in a way that remains accessible to readers in grades one through three.

Ted Macaluso is the author of Vincent, Theo and the Fox: A Mischievous Adventure through the Paintings of Vincent van Gogh for ages 4 – 10. He lives in Reston, Virginia.

Text © 2019 by Ted Macaluso.

 

This text includes affiliate links to books, which means that Amazon.com pays me a few pennies if you end up buying the book through the link. You don’t have to buy anything if you follow the link. If you do buy, your cost is the same whether or not you buy through the affiliate link. The pennies are way to few to influence what I write about a book.

 

A Painter from America’s Past Holds a Message for Today

In the 1800s, painter Thomas Cole gave a chilling warning about environmental destruction and political excess.

 

Painter Thomas Cole founded the first truly American art movement, the Hudson River School. Starting in the Hudson River valley in New York’s Catskill Mountains, the school specialized in romantic paintings of the North (and eventually South) American wilderness.

In the 1830s, Cole created a series of five paintings that made him the most famous artist in America. Known as The Course of Empire, the artworks give a chilling warning about environmental destruction and political excess. They are as relevant to America today as they were to the America of 1836.

Born in England in 1801, Cole came to America after seeing industrialization darken the natural beauty of the English countryside. He fell in love with the American wilderness but eventually saw people and commerce encroaching on nature in his adopted land as well. At the same time, in Cole’s trips to Italy he wondered at the Roman Empire and why it rose and fell. These two influences came together in Cole’s mind when he created The Course of Empire.

The five-painting series starts with nature in all its pristine glory, shows the rise and fall of human empire, and concludes with nature reclaiming the land.

The first painting in the series, titled The Course of Empire, shows the original wild beauty of America.

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The second in the series, The Arcadian, depicts people living in harmony with nature.

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The third painting, The Consummation of the Empire, shows the empire rising to glory, with nature barely visible as people and buildings cover the land.

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Then, the fourth, Destruction, depicts the fall of empire as people fight with each other and nature destroys the buildings and monuments with waves and storms.

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The final painting in the series, Desolation, finds nature reclaiming the ruins.

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It was a potent message in 1836. Now, with global warming leading to rising seas and increasingly destructive storms; with the extinction of thousands of species; and with political dysfunction fraying at the fabric of American values; The Course of Empire is a chilling warning about what might be.

Or, about what might be avoided. Cole’s paintings gave people thought and America continued to industrialize, expand, and become a world power. The artwork did not stop those developments. By making people think, however, Cole’s work supported environmental movements and are among the influences that led America to create one of the best natural park systems in the world. My hope is that remembering these paintings will encourage all of us to do what we can to heal the political and ecological wounds hurting today’s America and the world.

Cole created a new school of painting; no small achievement. Roughly two dozen artists have ties to the Hudson River School. If interested, one can visit the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. It has trails with guided tours that take you to the locations where many of the paintings were created.

Ted Macaluso is the author of Vincent, Theo and the Fox: A Mischievous Adventure through the Paintings of Vincent van Gogh for ages 4 – 10. He lives in Reston, Virginia.

Text © 2019 by Ted Macaluso.

 

 

Annibale Carracci, Vincent van Gogh and Michael Jackson

Self-portraits and easel paintings have a long tradition in art, from Carracci through Cezanne and, yes, Michael Jackson.

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Today, July 15, is the anniversary of Annibale Carracci’s death (in 1609). One of his more famous works was his self-portrait, displayed right. Read about the significance of self-portraits and easel paintings in the post below, not just for Carracci but for van Gogh, Corot, Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Norman Rockwell and more.

Vincent van Gogh, Easel Paintings and a bit of Michael Jackson

 

 

© 2017 by Ted Macaluso

Vincent van Gogh, Easel Paintings and a bit of Michael Jackson

Near the end of Vincent, Theo and the Fox, the young Vincent van Gogh thinks about what he might become when he grows up. When he thinks about becoming a painter, he thinks about easels. It turns out that lots of artists use easels in their self-portraits. What do these paintings mean?

“And [Vincent] thought about what it would mean to be a painter. He thought about standing at an easel in a studio. Then he thought about carrying an easel and paint to capture the landscapes he and Theo had seen.”

Vincent, Theo and the Fox is a story about Vincent van Gogh and growing up (for ages 4-10). It is illustrated with 30 of van Gogh’s paintings (including the two above). Some readers want to know more about the paintings so, on Mondays, I blog about one or more of them.

One of Vincent van Gogh’s more famous self-portraits (above left) is from 1888 and shows him standing at an easel. Paul Cezanne adopted a very similar pose in an 1885 self-portrait, as did Camille Corot in 1825, Peder Severin Kroyer in 1902 and Marc Chagall in 1914.

Some artists get quite imaginative with their easel-involved self portraits. As far back as 1605, Annibale Carracci painted his self portrait as if it were an unfinished painting propped on an easel (perhaps, as art critic Laura Cumming points out, to symbolize that he is like all men a work in progress). More recently, Norman Rockwell gave the genre a wonderful twist with his Triple Self-Portrait (which emphasizes the importance of the mirror to self-portraiture).

But why include an easel in a self-portrait? Is it the same as a stonemason, say, posing with a mallet and chisel (or the picture of me posing with a laptop above my bio)? Tools of the trade are important and there can be an aspect of advertising involved in artist self-portraits. A self-portrait shows the skill of an artist. A potential patron can compare the artist to her self-portrait and decide whether or not to commission a work. But there is, I think, more significance than that in both the idea of easels and self-portraits themselves.

The history of easel paintings is interesting. The website essentialvermeer.com gives some insight. The word “easel” comes from the Dutch word, ezel, meaning donkey. Around 1600, the word started to be used in its secondary sense of a stand used to support paintings. Easels, as stands, have probably been around since the ancient Egyptians. But, until the 13th century, paintings tended to be large: murals and wall-paintings. After the 13th century, there was growing public interest in acquiring art. Meeting that desire required smaller paintings, namely ones that could be done on an easel. Ever since, easel paintings have become the typical form of modern painting. Being highly transportable, easel paintings were easy to buy and sell, easel painting facilitated the growth of the art market.

Basically, easel paintings are an embodiment of a mind switch in the art world. Painting became secular. Fine art was no longer just for chapels and castle walls. Easel paintings were objects of worth in their own right. Also, an easel, with its freedom from a fixed location, makes a subtle assertion of the independence of the art of painting and the profession of painter.

But, with or without easels, self-portraits are often gripping to see. They are the artist’s answer to the eternal question, “Who am I?” The author of A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits, Laura Cumming, points out:

“Self-portraits make artists present as the embodiment of their art; it sounds so neat and succinct. But they often do so only to ask who or what this person is who is looking back from the mirror, how dismaying it is to be alone, how hard it is to represent or even just to be oneself.

Van Gogh had the courage to look in the mirror numerous times, painting 41 self portraits. Vincent–and all the other artists who have done serial self-portraits–make me think of Michael Jackson’s wonderful hit, “Man in the Mirror.” Here is a YouTube tribute by the person who wrote the song for (and performed it with) Jackson, Siedah Garrett.

 

– Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. Born in Brooklyn, he was a successful researcher on child nutrition and hunger before turning full-time to writing. His book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a fictional adventure about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (for ages 4 – 10). He now lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

 

Text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced provided attribution back to tedmacaluso.com is included. Uses affiliate links.