Artworks
Dream of Arcadia
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Arty Fact

wbillingsley's picture

Contributor

Arcadia was made by artsy philosopher types for artsy philosopher types.

Based off the very real island-peninsula thing that hangs off the bottom of Greece, Arcadia is supposed to be a sort of paradise defined by a lack of human intervention or development. What makes it philosophical is that discussion of the place is normally tied to concepts like death, or the loss of innocence, such as in Et in Arcadia Ego. As such, the framing of Arcadia can be a bit over-dramatic and is normally reserved for philosophy edgelords who are trying too hard to look cool. And while this description definitely characterizes Thomas Cole, he is however one of the few who have earned the right to discuss this subject.

Born in Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, a place located more or less between Liverpool and Manchester, Cole spent the formative years of his life living in a fairly civilized area. As the son of a wool manufacturer in the early 19th century, he would have literally been on the factory floor of the industrial revolution. Then, at seventeen, when he and his family immigrated to Philadelphia, he was suddenly confronted with the wilds of the America frontier and a real world Arcadia. Cole was able to see the contrast between the tamed and untamed world, and very much brought it to bear in his art. This theme is particularly present in single pieces like this one, Expulsion for the Garden of Eden, and with more ambitious projects like The Course of Empire series.

One might think this perspective would ground the man, make him a bit more real and down-to-earth, especially when compared to the other artists of the Romantic movement. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Thomas Cole was weird guy, as made evident by a letter he wrote to his friend about this very picture. It starts with him saying that he went to Arcadia in a dream, and ends with him saying that he wanted the inhabitants of his make believe world hung.

But this doesn’t matter, at the end of the day the man was just painting a picture, not writing a political thesis, and while the method by which he came to his conclusions might be a bit wonky, his final work does ring true with a reality missing from a multitude of famous paintings, even ones not based on a made-up world.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Greek Mythology .Com. “Arcadia” greekmythology.com viewed on 08/08/2019 https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Places/Arcadia/arcadia.html
  2. Kimmelman, Micheal “ART VIEW; Thomas Cole, Early American Pessimist” New York Times 06/19/94 https://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/19/arts/art-view-thomas-cole-early-ameri...
  3. Noble, Louis Legrand “The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, Issue 1” Shelden Blakeman and Company 1856 pg 252 https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=xYcfAAAAYAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA15&...
  4. Oxford Reference. “Thomas Cole” Oxford University Press viewed on 08/08/2019 https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095623342