He returned later to Europe, where in two long trips, he recorded landscapes to match those around his home in Catskill, New York. While living in Florence in 1832, he took sketches of the Tuscan countryside, inspired by European painters such as Claude Lorrain. Thomas Cole's A View Near Tivoli (Morning) was actually completed as oil on canvas on his return to Florence. Read more about his life in this biography.
Now in the collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, this very Italian classical scene includes a section of an ancient aqueduct, Il Arco di Nerone, and the remains of a bridge with a road beneath it. The mist coming off the mountains leaves the viewer in no doubt that the time of day is morning, and the whole is reminiscent of the countryside of early Turner, who was also influenced initially by Lorrain.
Cole focused on the wide open terrain of North America and, working in the Romantic tradition, he was unique in bringing a European perspective to the subject. A View Near Tivoli is a rendition from the Old World, but the space within it connects well with his New World paintings. Early walks with his sister on the moors of Lancashire gave him a love of rugged scenery that stayed with him as he explored his new country, where it is possible that as an immigrant, he may have always felt somewhat of an outsider, and most at ease in open spaces.
Thomas Cole founded the Hudson River School of the mid-nineteenth century (the river ran near his home in the Catskills), and familiarised himself with the Hudson on steam boat rides, inspiring other painters such as Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Edwin Church and Asher Brown Durand. In the same way that he had taken sketches like A View Near Tivoli back to his rooms in Florence to finish them, he took a pencil and pad for his journeys through the American wilderness, and then worked on them over the winter in his studio at home. The next generation of the School took its quest away from New York, finding images that offered hope after the Civil War.
Cole trained for a while with an artist called Stein, and then moved on to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Apart from this, he was self-taught, which seems appropriate for a newcomer to a country where it was proclaimed that anything was possible. He was able to produce both detailed pictures, and sweeping canvases that emphasised light and shade, making use of chiaroscuro. A View Near Tivoli (Morning) by Thomas Cole contains elements of both, with clear details showing the foreground's vegetation and small figures, while the background gives way to the striking effects of light and dark. Today, his love of wilderness and space still appeals to the pioneering spirit in Americans.