Catalogue entry: The odd combination of buildings, stagelike setting framed by an arch and curtains, and exaggerated contrasts of scale indicates that the scene before us is a fantasy. In fact, The Architect's Dream portrays an ideal realm imagined by the architect, who reclines with eyes closed in the foreground atop a monumental column. The series of buildings also represents the history of Western civilization and exemplifies particular cultures. Arranged in historical order, the Egyptian pyramid and the temple in the background give way to Greek and Roman temples of the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders and, to the left, a Gothic cathedral. Thomas Cole used light and setting to distinguish between the clarity of Mediterranean architecture bathed in southern sunlight and the mystery of a tree-surrounded Gothic church cast in northern shadow. In 1839 architect Ithiel Town (1784-1844), a proponent of both the Greek and Gothic Revival styles, commissioned the painting from Cole, founder of the group of landscape painters known as the Hudson River School. Town asked for a view of Athens, either ancient or modern. The finished canvas was not exactly what Town had envisioned. The leading landscape artist in America at the time, Cole increasingly imbued his monumental paintings with religious, allegorical, and literary references, moving toward moralizing compositions that could display his intellect. Accordingly, Cole, whose own architectural accomplishments included the design on which the Ohio State Capitol is based, perhaps conceived of The Architect's Dream as an allegorical portrait of Town or even of himself. Although Town liked "the mixture of different ages and styles in the same imaginary picture," he had wanted the landscape to dominate the architecture. Disappointed, he rejected the painting, much to Cole's indignation. Inscribed "Painted by T. Cole / For I. Town Archt.," the painting remained in Cole's family until acquired by the Museum in 1949.
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. Scott