Thomas Cole is a crucial, but transitional, figure in the history of American landscape art, bridging the European world of myth and legend with the American world of boundless nature. This can be seen, most famously, in his five-part Course of Empire series in which the unspoiled world of the Native American gives way to pseudo-Roman scenes derived from the most florid examples of Martin and Turner.
Unfortunately, with one exception – the Met’s own “Oxbow” – Cole’s pictures do not stand up or stand out on their own; so an exhibition devoted to Cole, such as the Met’s “Thomas Cole: Atlantic Crossings,” is bound to disappoint, and this one did. The saving graces were the prelude and the addendum: examples from prior artists who influenced Cole and later artists who followed him.