Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
Thomas Cole, American (born in England), 1801–1848 American
100.96 x 138.43 cm (39 3/4 x 54 1/2 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Waleska Evans James Gallery (Gallery 236)
Thomas Cole first exhibited Expulsion from the Garden of Eden along with his Garden of Eden (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas) in 1828 at the National Academy of Design in New York, of which he had been a founding member. Writing to his patron Robert Gilmore, Cole noted that his submissions aimed for a higher form of landscape painting. Although the works failed to sell, Gilmore supported Cole’s travels abroad and set him on his way to receiving a major commission from New York art patron Luman Reed to paint a series of five monumental canvases depicting the Course of Empire (1836, New-York Historical Society).
Immigrating to the United States from England at the age of eighteen, Cole was likely inspired by contemporary British art when he conceived his scene of the Expulsion. He had relied upon British drawing books and prints for the rudiments of his artistic education, and his scene of Adam and Eve dwarfed by promontories of terrifying proportions recalls British painter and printmaker John Martin’s illustrations for John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. linkCole’s dramatic use of light streaming through the rocky portal to Paradise is clearly reminiscent of Martin’s history paintings link.
In his 1835 Essay on American Scenery, Cole would describe the beauties of the American wilderness and its capacity to reveal God’s creation as a metaphoric Eden. He considered European scenery to reflect the ravages of civilization, for which primeval forests had been felled, rugged mountains had been smoothed, and impetuous rivers had been turned from their courses. In contrast, Cole believed the American wilderness to embody a state of divine grace and lamented that the signs of progress were rapidly encroaching. In his Expulsion, Cole vividly portrays both Paradise and a hostile world replete with the consequences of earthly knowledge. These opposing realms meet near the center of the canvas. The profusion of flora and fauna evokes the beauty and harmony of Eden; outside the portal to Paradise, Adam and Eve are cast into an abyss marked by blasted trees, desolate rocks, and an ominous wolf.
1. John Milton, Paradise Lost, with illustrations designed and engraved by John Martin (London: Septimus Prowett, 1827).
This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting link, MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).