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Thomas Cole

THOMAS COLE HAS ALWAYS BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED as an important figure in the history of American art. This is not to say he has always been appreciated. Jonas Mekas recently wrote that one might learn something about light from Cole’s paintings; this despite the fact that Cole was “bad and stupid.” Mekas’ remarks are a fair measure of how far we have come in our appreciation of Cole’s art—and also how far we may yet have to go before we can come to terms with it.

I am not convinced that Cole was either bad or stupid. Nor do I think anyone partial to Cole need apologize for the complexities of his oeuvre. That Cole’s paintings have become increasingly popular over the last thirty years is some proof of their powers. Although they may lack the virtues that have endeared Constable and Turner (with whom Cole inevitably is compared) to modern audiences, they have virtues of their own. Of these we are

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