In Indian Pass, Thomas Cole creates a primeval American past. Deeply concerned about the political and economic turbulence of his time, Cole filled his landscapes with symbols and warnings, capturing a resplendent America that was ultimately fraught with moral and national urgency.
Scholars have long proclaimed Cole the “father” of the first native school of American painting. Dubbed the Hudson River School, the movement is perhaps more accurately described as the American branch of 19th-century Romantic landscape painting. A British-born American transplant, Cole created a distinct niche for American scenery by isolating its constituent parts: majestic mountains, brilliant skies, abundant wilderness, flowing rivers, and flaming autumn trees, all of which he celebrates in Indian Pass.
In this classic Hudson River School landscape, sunlight illuminates a glorious wilderness scene, filled with fallen branches, lichen-covered woods, and framing trees that give way to a towering mountain that pierces passing clouds. In the foreground, blasted trees suggest the inevitable passage of time while the Native American figure, bow in hand, introduces a nostalgic element; by 1847, when this work was painted, Native Americans no longer inhabited the scenic wilderness Cole depicts. By combining these elements with a lush, dramatic setting, Cole offered 19th-century viewers a marker by which to measure the nation’s past, present, and future.