View from Mount Holyoke (The Oxbow), Thomas Cole (1836)
View from Mount Holyoke (The Oxbow), Thomas Cole (1836)

“The imagination can scarcely conceive Arcadian vales more lovely or more peaceful than the valley of the Connecticut,” wrote the artist Thomas Cole in his “Essay on American Scenery.” “Its villages are rural places where trees overspread every dwelling, and the fields upon its margin have the richest verdure.” This idealized view of rural America was already starting to collapse when Cole painted View from Mount Holyoke, also known as The Oxbow. By the 1830s, Mount Holyoke had become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, surpassed only by Niagara Falls, and the influx of sightseers was bound to disrupt its pastoral atmosphere. In selecting this corner of the country to preserve in a monumental painting, Cole produced an enduring visual record of a vanishing way of life.

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