THOMAS COLE 5a View from Mount Holyoke (The Oxbow),1836
View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton ..
Perhaps the best way to ensure conservation comes from seeing what you have to lose. The view from Mount Holyoke has inspired conservationists, recreational tourists, and nature lovers of all stripes for over 200 years. Standing atop the summit provides a glorious panorama overlooking mountains, hills, and the Connecticut River Valley with its small towns and rural landscape. Now part of the over 400-acre J.A. Skinner State Park, the sublime vista of Mount Holyoke still captivates thousands of visitors annually.
THOMAS COLE 5a View from Mount Holyoke (The Oxbow), 1836
A wonderful illustration of this is Cole’s 1836 masterwork, A View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, a painting that is generally (and mercifully) known as The Oxbow. At first glance this painting may seem to be nothing more than an interesting view of a recognizable bend in the Connecticut River. But when viewed through the lens of nineteenth-century political ideology, this painting eloquently speaks about the widely discussed topic of westward expansion.
(1801–1848) View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836
Oil on canvas, 51½ x 76 inches
Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY,
Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908, 08.228View from Mount Holyoke. W.H. Bartlett, Engraving, c. 1837-1838. Published in Nathaniel Parker Willis, American Scenery (London: George Virtue, 1840).
Color reproduction on 8 1/2x11 archival matte paperThe Oxbow is widely considered one of the most important American landscape paintings. It features a panoramic view of the Connecticut River Valley as a thunderstorm sweeps through the land. In the midst of painting The Course of Empire (now at the New-York Historical Society), Cole mentioned, in a letter dating from 1836 to his patron Luman Reed, that he was completing a large version of this subject expressly for exhibition and sale. The picture was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1836 as View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm.After publishing his memories of his Italian sojourn in Gleanings in Europe: Italy, (1838), Cooper returned to the western coast of Italy in his novel, The Wing-and-Wing (1842), an historical romance about a privateer operating at the beginning of the Napoleonic era. At the center of the book is a tourist's set piece: a panoramic description of the Bay of Naples. Far more panoramic and finished a composition than any of his descriptions in his travel book, this scene suggests a move toward a more comprehensive gaze at the historical and aesthetic landscape, a development that parallels Thomas Cole's shift from his earlier Italian paintings to those composed during the late 1830s and 1840s. Alan Wallach has argued that Cole developed a new perspective on landscape in his 1836 painting of an American tourist destination, View from Mount Holyoke (The Oxbow) [slide], a perspective that combined panoramic range with telescopic precision of detail and that functioned as an analogy of the middle-class gaze; what Wallach calls the "panoptic sublime drew its...energy from prevailing ideologies in which the exercise of power and the maintenance of social order required vision and supervision,...words equally applicable to panoramic views and to the operation of the reformed social institutions of the period." Wallach adds that when tourists reached such scenic outlooks as the top of Mount Holyoke, they "experienced a sudden access of power, a dizzying sense of having suddenly come into possession of a terrain stretching as far as the eye could see"; this conflation of vision, power, and knowledge produced the experience of the sublime.