“The Country House in American Art”, from the Symposium Buildings and Brushstrokes: Art Architecture and the Promise of America at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, May 27-29, 2016
“Thomas Cole’s Country Houses”, Sunday Salon lecture at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, March 13th, 2016
DISSERTATION: “Something of an Architect: Thomas Cole and the Country House Ideal”
Thomas Cole is now firmly established in the canon for his landscape paintings and allegories but it has not been adequately understood how deeply he was invested in architecture. With attention to previously unpublished archival materials, my dissertation argues that many of his best known paintings were the product of practical architectural endeavors with which he was involved in the same years, and that he approached the built environment pictorially. A variety of evidence, including Cole’s writings about public buildings, his “house portraits” for three different patrons, and his designs for a country house of his own, demonstrates a preoccupation with architecture as a force for harmony, unity, and permanence in a fractious society that sorely needed all three. This context urges a rethinking of much of the oeuvre of “the father of the Hudson River School” and of the ideologies with which country life and its representations were fraught in the antebellum era.
BOOK PROJECT: “Painting Houses: The Domestic Landscape of the Hudson River School”
I am now at work on an expansion of my doctoral dissertation that will put Cole in dialogue with two other painter-architects who explicitly followed his model in building country houses of their own as a component of the practice of a transdisciplinary art of landscape: Frederic Edwin Church and Jasper Francis Cropsey. All three found in architecture a particularly public art form that offered the chance to play a role in wider debates than could oil on canvas alone. By reconceiving the work of all three in architecture, including fictive buildings, built structures, and garden design, not as peripheral but as central to their practice, it becomes clear the extent to which artists of the so-called Hudson River School were preoccupied with a fundamentally domestic landscape, rooted in sustained observation and immersion, and also participated in the formation of a suburban ideal.