Eden to Empire

Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848) is recognised as one of the greatest American landscape painters. Born at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Bolton le Moors, Lancashire, he emigrated with his family to America in 1818. One of the major 19th-century American painters, he is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century. Cole’s work is known for its romantic portrayal of the American wilderness.

'View from Mount Holyoke, 1836

Currently the National Gallery has an exhibition (it closes Sunday 7 October 2018) of his major works. The exhibition is a chronological journey. It encompasses Cole’s trips to England and Italy between 1829 and 1832 and shows works by Turner and Constable that inspired him in London.

On his return to the United States, he produced his most ambitious work. Horrified by the effects of industrialisation during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, Cole painted impassioned warnings about the ecological cost of unchecked development. Indeed, it is possible to view his work as a personal manifesto offering his fears and solutions to the world around him, that thrilled and scared him in equal measure.

His paintings helped lead America to value not just its land but its landscapes, too. Within his work is the beginning of a nearly thirty-year process leading to the first federal preservation of a specific landscape—the establishment of Yosemite and the nearby Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias in 1864—as what we now call a national park, an idea that will spread across the United States and then the world. Cole’s body of work reveals how American art grew into an agent outside art’s own history.

Painting at the same time, albeit on a different continent were the English artists JMW Turner and John Constable and both in different ways were intrigued, curious and fearful of the consequences of a rapidly changing world as it came to terms with factory output and the growth of cities.


Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851), was an English romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist, known for his expressive colourisation, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. Turner was born in, London, to a modest lower middle-class family. He lived in London all his life, retaining his cockney accent and assiduously avoiding the trappings of success and fame. He travelled far and wide filling voluminous sketchbooks on every journey. He adored Margate and the Isle of Thanet saying: “The skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe,” he wrote of the area around Margate, where he painted more than 100 oils and watercolours.


John Constable (1776 – 1837) was an English landscape painter in the naturalistic tradition. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home — now known as “Constable Country” — which he invested with an intensity of affection. “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling”. His most famous paintings include Wivenhoe ParkDedham Vale of 1802 and The Hay Wain. Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, Constable was never financially successful.

The Thomas Cole exhibition not only contains The Oxbow (shown above) and the epic, The Course of Empire series but also, my favourite, the much more allegorical The Titan’s Goblet.


It is easy, but no less true all the same, to draw parallels between a world at the start of the 19th century struggling with nascent democracy and abuse of power by the ‘strong men’ of politics and today when nature once again faces challenges on all fronts as hard-won protections and laws are stripped away daily in the pursuit of greater per capita economic growth.


Two Ramblers Eden to Empire walks in September 2018


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Join me and Ramblers groups Metropolitan Walkers & Capital Walkers in association with the National Gallery to learn more about Thomas Cole, JMW Turner & John Constable.

Walk 1: Saturday 15 September at 11 am

Turner & Margate

Meeting point: Margate station

Distance & description: 8 mile circular around Margate and the Isle of Thanet

Finish point: Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate


Walk 2: Saturday 29 September at 11.15 am

Constable Country

Meeting point: Manningtree station

Distance & description: 8 mile circular visiting many of the locations of Constable’s famous paintings in Dedham Vale & Flatford

Finish point: Manningtree station

 These walks are FREE and open to all. There’s no need to book but if you want to tell me you’re coming along to both of either walks or would like to ask any questions please email me at walkingclasshero@gmail.com.

The pace will be leisurely and the terrain is easy so don’t be put off if you’re not an experienced walker. Bring along a packed lunch and plenty to drink. I expect I’ll have a drink locally before returning to London and you are welcome to join me.

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2 for 1 ticket offer for Ramblers members


To celebrate Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire, the National Gallery is offering 2 for 1 tickets for Ramblers members. To redeem the offer simply show a valid Ramblers Members Card at the National Gallery ticket desk.

Opening hours: Daily 10am – 6pm (Friday 10am – 9pm)

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN

national gallery


  • Offer is valid for Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire. It runs until 7 October 2018.
  • The promoters are the National Gallery, London
  • This offer is open to residents of & visitors to the British Isles, aged 16 years or over
  • One adult (or child) is admitted free of charge when accompanied by one adult who pays the full adult price. In the event of a full price and concessionary ticket being purchased together, the higher price ticket must be paid for. Only one discount may be used per two people


The walking class hero playlist:

 Long Road out of Eden – The Eagles

Take the Long Way Home – Supertramp

Show Me the Way – Peter Frampton

Follow You, Follow Me – Genesis

Fake Empire – The National

Empire – Ella Henderson


 th     Follow me @walkngclasshero


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