Thomas Cole, "The Oxbow," 1836
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Cole relies heavily on European conventions of landscape painting to convey the visual representation of the struggle between wilderness and civilization. Cronon points out that the diagonal of the tree to the left that directs the view of the scene down the valley toward the farmland is a trademark of celebrated French landscapist Claude Lorrain. The dramatic storm clouds over the wilderness speak of the uncontrolled power of nature, but also of the sublimity of this power. Cole shows no remorse for the recession of the wilderness from the scene. The soft greens and yellows and the gentle rolling landscape of the farms suggest that the pastoral civilization that replaces the wilderness is as beautiful in its order as nature is in its sublimity.

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