Thomas Cole: The Course of the Empire

British-American artist, Thomas Cole, was largely inspired by great British artists, Turner and Constable. And like many artists in the early 19th century, he took The Grand Tour of Italy and the Mediterranean to visit the great sites of the Ancient world, rediscovering the incredible ruins of Rome, Athens and beyond.

Cole had grown up in the midst of the Industrial Revolution in Northern England, witnessing the dramatic changes it inflicted on society. He would paint that story and it was a theme he revisited again in his new home on America’s East Coast where he emigrated with his family at the age of 17 in 1818.

The United States was in the throes of rapid industrialisation and change, and Cole – who was instrumental in the establishment of the Hudson River School – yearned for a natural world where bucolic landscapes lay undisturbed by progress

These themes, the influence of Turner and Constable and his wonder for the ancient world, would form the basis of Cole’s greatest work: The Course of Empire. Its five canvasses depict the foundation, growth, celebration, collapse and eventual ruin of a mythical empire. It’s a universal story repeated through the ages.

Browse The Course of Empire gallery below and check out our 10 part series, Empire Builders, which charts the growth, power and eventual collapse of 10 of the world’s great empires.


Desolation, 1836

Destruction, 1836

The Consummation of Empire, 1834

The Pastoral or Arcadian State, 1834

The Savage State, 1834

Watch the Empire Builders trailer!