Thomas Cole was a landscape, portrait, and religious painter, and great pioneer of the Hudson River School of painting. He was born in Bolton-le-Moor, England in 1801 and came to America with his family in 1819. He worked as a block engraver in Steubenville, Ohio, for several years, after which he took up itinerant portrait painting to make a living. He moved to New York and quickly gained recognition as a portrait and landscape painter and became a founder of the National Academy. Shortly after moving to New York, he made his first of many trips to the Catskills, sketching scenes that served as the basis for many well-known works. His majestic and detailed descriptions of the American wilderness soon brought him recognition from other artists and patrons.
Because of his desire to move beyond the picturesque toward religious and allegorical landscapes, he spent time in England and on the Continent from 1829-1832, studying the Old Masters. Upon his return, he continued to work in New York for several years and then married and settled at Catskill. His two most ambitious works were the allegorical series The Course of the Empire and The Voyage of Life, painted during the late 1830’s. He spent more time in Europe in 1841-42, where he experienced a religious conversion and joined the Anglican Church. After, more explicit religious themes emerged in his work. He was working on the series The Cross and the World at the time of his death from pneumonia in 1848. The earliest biography of Cole was Louis L. Noble’s Life and Works of Thomas Cole, published shortly after Cole’s death.