The view across the valley to the Catskill Mountains was one that Cole painted more than any other, but it was changing rapidly, even then. Cole’s desire to capture American landscapes on canvas, and the public’s growing desire to visit these idealized landscapes and acquire the paintings, became all the more urgent as the vistas of “pristine nature” were vanishing from sight.
“Among the inhabitants of this village, he must be dull indeed who has not observed how, within the last ten years, the beauty of its environs has been shorn away; year by year the groves that adorned the banks of the Catskill wasted away.”
-Thomas Cole, Essay on American Scenery, 1841
The view in Cole’s painting pictured above was already a memory when he painted it in 1837, as the forests were cleared for the leather-tanning industry, and construction for very early railroad crossed through the view.
“Yet I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away–the ravages of the axe are daily increasing–the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilized nation. The wayside is becoming shadeless, and another generation will behold spots, now rife with beauty, desecrated by what is called improvement.”
-Thomas Cole, Essay on American Scenery