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Analysis of Thomas Coles painting, Falls at Tivoli

Art 105 Section 01 Dr. Larmann
5 April 2013

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Thomas Cole was born in England in 1801 and immigrated to the United States when he was seventeen years old (“Biography of Thomas Cole”). Cole was self-taught and first worked as a portrait artist in both Ohio and Philadelphia. Eventually, his works were featured in exhibitions after he became involved in the Philadelphia Academy. Cole first became recognized throughout the United States after an exhibition featuring his paintings of the Catskill wilderness in New York. Cole later studied in Great Britain, and he traveled to France and Italy; upon returning to the United States, he presented his landscape paintings from his time spent abroad. Thomas Cole painted many series of paintings, including The Course of Empire, Voyage of Life, and The Cross and the World. Cole often used his paintings to communicate his disdain for industrialization and to show the natural beauty that can be found in the world. Cole is considered to be the founder of the Hudson River School, a group consisting of landscape painters from New York City (“The Hudson River School”). Although he did not actually create the group, his work served as an inspiration for the artists involved with the Hudson River School, and Cole was the teacher of one of the most well-known members of the group, Frederic Edwin Church. Thomas Cole painted until his death in Catskill in 1848 (“Biography of Thomas Cole”).

A painting by Thomas Cole, Falls at Tivoli can be found at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science (Figure 1; Evansville Museum). Falls at Tivoli is situated near the corner of a large room on the second floor of Evansville Museum; the painting is flanked by other landscape paintings (Evansville Museum). Falls at Tivoli was painted using oil on canvas in a style that later become known as Luminism (Evansville Museum). Starting in the mid-1900s, the word “luminism” started being used to describe

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landscape artists, such as Asher Durand, Thomas Cole, and Frederic Edwin Chuch (Wilton). Luminism is a style that uses distorted light to emphasize water, sunsets, and other areas of the work (Evansville Museum). The water sources being emphasized in Thomas Cole’s painting are waterfalls of the River Aniene (Evansville Museum). The subjects of the painting are the river and the hills of a small town approximately eighteen miles outside of Rome, Tivoli (Evansville Museum; “Tivoli Italy”).

Figure 1: Falls at Tivoli by Thomas Cole, oil on canvas
The elements and principles of art can be easily observed in Falls at Tivoli. Line,

color, and value play an especially important role in the painting. Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines are used throughout. The slightly curved vertical lines in the waterfall and in the tree are the eye’s guiding force in the work. The eye is immediately drawn to the rushing waterfall in the background of the work. Then, one’s eye moves to the tree and down to the two figures in the foreground. Horizontal lines are also utilized in the work and can be found in the building in the background and in the ground. Diagonal lines, which help to express movement throughout the work, shape the hill in the

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foreground as well as the hill and part of the waterfall in the background. Differences in color and value affect the emphasis of certain aspects of the painting; the brighter colors of the waterfalls in relation muted colors of the hill on the opposite side makes the female figure dressed in dark colors easy to miss. The intense colors and values used for the clothing of the other female and the lightness of the ground beneath her allow her to be easily seen. The light values of the waterfall, the sky, and the elevated land in the background draw the eye to that area rather than to the dark area on the other side of the work. The lines, color, and value Thomas Cole used are important for guiding the eye and for emphasizing important parts of the work.

Falls in Tivoli also employs shape, perspective, balance, unity, and texture. The shapes throughout the work are organic, making the painting realistic, and the shapes all seem to flow into each other naturally. The largeness of the two figures in the foreground in relation to the waterfalls in the background coupled with the hill overlapping the waterfall gives the appearance of a three-dimensional area; because of the perspective, one can easily tell which parts of the painting are supposed to be viewed as far away and which parts are nearest. From a distance, the texture appears to be smooth; upon closer inspection, however, one can how the brushstrokes were used to thickly build up paint that make the landscape appear natural and almost rough. The painting is asymmetrical but still well-balanced. The waterfalls on one side of the painting are balanced by the large, grassy hill on the other. The tree that crosses from one side of the painting to the other and the waterfall unify the colors in the painting; the darkness of the bottom is balanced by the luminosity of the waterfall, while the radiance from the sunset is

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balanced by the dark green of the tree-top. All the features within the painting seem to belong, and the painting appears to be complete.

In Falls at Tivoli, Thomas Cole paints the outdoors so that nature appears to be an inviting presence rather than an overbearing or intimidating force. The lightness of the sky and the waterfall immediately draw the viewer in by giving a sense of peace and relaxation. The two female figures in the painting, especially the figure that is sitting down, appear to be at ease, which is reflected to the viewer. The females seem to have escaped from the harshness of everyday life for some relaxation and rejuvenation. While the smallness of the figures in comparison to the largeness of the hills and the rushing of the water show how powerful and overwhelming nature can be in relation to humans, the painting also gives a tranquil, soothing feeling to the viewer because of the muted colors that Thomas Cole used throughout. The restfulness of the figures and the land featured around them give a sense of the differences between the bustling, industrial world that people are so used to and the freedom and vastness of the outdoors. The two figures and the inviting colors used throughout are effective at drawing viewers in.

Cole effectively captures the natural beauty of the world and presents it to the viewer, reminding the viewer of the importance and serenity that can be found in nature. Falls at Tivoli also reminds the viewer of the feeling of awe and the escape that one can experience after leaving an active, hurried life for a more relaxing atmosphere. Thomas Cole’s painting alone is enough to allow the viewer to realize and understand the inadequacies of the industrialized world. Beauty can, of course, be found in the modern world, but not to the extent that is found in Falls at Tivoli. The sense of freedom that is portrayed in the painting, however, is more difficult to find in everyday life. In order to

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experience beauty and freedom in the magnitude found in Cole’s painting, most people must escape their everyday lives. Falls at Tivoli is enough to inspire one to go on a retreat to rediscover the world’s natural beauty.

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Works Cited
“Biography of Thomas Cole.” Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Thomas Cole

Historical House. 2013. Web. 3 April 2013.
Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science. 411 S.E. Riverside Drive, Evansville,

Indiana. 12 March 2013.
“Tivoli Italy.” Live in Rome. Life in Rome. 2012. Web. 4 April 2013.
“The Hudson River School.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan

Museum of Art. 2013.
Wilton, Andrew. “Washington. American Light: The Luminist Movement 1850-1875.”

The Burlington Magazine. 122: 715-716.

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this is a sample of the paper



And this is the requirements


Critical Analysis Paper

The second project is associated with the Artwork Analysis writing assignments. This project will require you to visit a museum or gallery, pick out one work, and respond to its formal, contextual, and conceptual characteristics. You will choose the work from those at the Evansville Museum. The minimum 1200 word paper will be submitted to turnitin.com, should include some information about the physical characteristics of the work that can only be observed first-hand. Make sure that the paper has a cover page, uses citations of source material, and has an associated bibliography. It is recommended to review the Artwork Analysis writing assignment before submitting the paper.

Form - These evaluations will be descriptive and use terminology related to the elements of art and the principles of design. This type of evaluation should be objective, but does not require any citation or bibliography because it is done from careful observation of the image alone. It does require a knowledge of the visual fundamentals of art.

Context - These evaluations will be researched and be factual information related to the background of the work. It may consist of artist biographical information, information about the medium used, associations that the title of the work implies, conditions that existed during the time period, associated information about the style or movement with which the work might be associated, or other facts about the work. This evaluation requires citations to note the source of specific information and a bibliography to support the citations. 

Content - These evaluations are subjective and interpretive. These interpretations may be derived from associations based on observation of the form of the work, the context surrounding the work, the associated experiences that you bring when reacting to the work, or the impression others have written about the work (needs citation/bibliography). Since this evaluation is subjective much of it can be based on your own personal impressions and interpretations. No citation or bibliography is necessary unless an outside source is used. Content analysis includes Iconographic, Biographical, Feminist, and Psychological.

The paper must have the following characteristics:

  • an evaluation of the formal characteristics of the work
  • an evaluation of the contextual characteristics of the work
  • an evaluation of the conceptual characteristics or content of the work
  • have appropriate citations to denote any information taken directly from other sources
  • have a bibliography that directs a reader to the sources of the citations and other source material
  • The paper MUST evaluate the physical characteristics of the work that can only be seen when viewing the work in person. Even painted and drawn surfaces have a texture that can be described. I want to you to go see the work in person, do not try doing this work without going to a museum.

When evaluating this paper I will look carefully at:
- meets minimum requirements (word count, topic, etc.)
- well crafted (grammar, spelling, etc.)
- level of discourse (Are you challenging yourself?)
- relative to topic (Does the discussion reflect the work being analyzed?)
- creativity (inventive forms of expression used)

The paper has to be about the two pictures below.

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