Catskill takes its name from a large creek which flows through it, and empties into the Hudson at that place, one hundred and eleven miles from New York. It is on the west bank of the river, some thirty-three miles from Albany, and contains two thousand eight hundred inhabitants, four hundred dwelling-houses, a court-house, a jail, two banks, five churches, and several public houses. It is connected by a ferry with Oak Hill, a small settlement on the opposite side of the river. About this portion of the river, the Catskill mountains, which are seen for many miles along the Hudson, assume a majestic and sublime appearance. The highest elevation, twelve miles distant from the river, is three thousand seven hundred and eighteen feet in height. The village, which was formerly only known to business men, has now become quite a resort for people of fashion, who come here on their way to the Pine Orchard and the Mountain House. The prospect from the rock on which this hotel in air has been erected, is as extensive and varied as from any other point in the United States. From it the eye roves in endless gratification over farms, villages, towns, and cities, stretching between the Green Mountains on the north and the Highlands. The green isles and the thousand sheets of canvass which adorn the Hudson, are all distinctly visible, in a clear atmosphere for sixty miles. When the scene is gradually unfolded at daybreak, the effect is that of enchantment It is not uncommon, at this place, to witness storms of snow and rain in their seasons, midway the mountain, while all is clear and serene on its summit. The following extract is taken from a glowing account by Miss Martineau. "After tea I went out on the platform in front of the house, having been warned not to go too near the edge, so as to fall an unmeasured depth into the forest below. I sat upon the edge as a security against stepping over unawares. The stars were bright overhead and had conquered half the sky, giving promise of what we ardently desired, a fine morrow. Over the other half, the mass of thunder clouds was, I suppose, heaped together, for I could at first discern nothing of the champaign which I knew must be stretched below. Suddenly, and from that moment incessantly, gushes of red lightning poured out from the cloudy canopy, revealing not merelv the horizon, but the course of the river in all its windings through the valley. The thread of the river thus illuminated looked like a flash of lightning caught by a strong hand and laid along in the valley. All the principal features of the landscape might, no doubt, have been discerned by this sulphurous light: but my whole attention was absorbed by the river, which seemed to come out of the darkness like an apparition at the summons of my impatient will. It could be borne only for a short time; this dazzling, bewildering alternation of glare and blackness, of vast reality and nothingness. I was soon glad to draw back from the precipice and seek the candlelight within.
"The next day was Sunday. I shall never forget, if I live to a hundred, how the world lay at my feet one Sunday morning. I rose very early, and looked abroad from my window, two stories above the platform. A dense fog, exactly level with my eyes, as it appeared, roofed in the whole plain of the earth; a dusky firmament in which the stars had hidden themselves for the day. Such is the account which an antediluvian spectator would probably have given of it. This solid firmament had spaces in it, however, through which gushes of sunlight were poured, lighting up the spires of white churches, and clusters of farm buildings too small to be otherwise distinguished ; and especially the river, with its sloops floating like motes in the sunbeam. The firmament rose and melted, or parted off into the likeness of snowy sky mountains, and left the cool Sabbath to brood brightly over the land. What human interest sanctifies a bird's eye view! I suppose this its peculiar charm, for its charm is found to deepen in proportion to the growth of mind. To an infant, a campaign of a hundred miles is not so much as a yard square of gay carpet.. To the rustic it is less bewitching than a paddock with two cows. To the philosopher, what is it not! As he casts his eye over its glittering towns, its scattered hamlets, its secluded homes, its mountain ranges, church spires, and untrodden forests, it is a picture of life ; an epitome of the human universe; the complete volume of moral philosophy, for which he has sought in vain in all libraries. On the left horizon are the Green mountains of Vermont, and at the right extremity sparkles the Atlantic. Beneath lies the forest where the deer are hiding and the birds rejoicing in song. Beyond the river he sees spread the rich plains of Connecticut; there where a blue expanse lies beyond the triple range of hills, are the churches of religious Massachusetts, sending up their Sabbath psalms ; praise which he is too high to hear, while God is not."
Thomas Cole was born in Bolton, England in 1801. He studied to be a wood engraver. As a young man he came to the United States and continued working as an engraver. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia, where he began painting landscapes for which he would. become famous. When he moved to Catskill, New York, on the Hudson River several of his friends including Asher B Durand and Thomas Doughty followed. The landscapes they painted were characterized by a strict attention to detail and a lush romantic mood. The paintings, which were recognized as the first distinctively American genre, became known collectively as the Hudson River School even when the paintings were sometimes of the West or Mediterranean countries. The Hudson River school flourished between 1820 and 1880.
Edgar Mayhew Bacon in The Hudson From the Ocean to Source says of Cole: "As Kingston cherishes in her hall of fame the name of John Vanderlyn, artist, so Catskill points with pride to Thomas Cole, who, though of English birth, yet for many years, and indeed to the close of his life, lived and worked near that place. He is best known by the Voyage of Life, which at the time of its exhibition was considered, perhaps, the most remarkable painting produced in America. Cole had a deeply reverent spirit, evinced no less in the works of his brush than in the poems by which he loved to express his strong appreciation of nature, ‘Slowly unfolding to the enraptured gaze Her thousand charms’."
Visit Thomas Cole's home Cedar Grove
View Thomas Cole's Storm King of the Hudson