In the spring of 1826, Thomas Cole met Robert Gilmor Jr., a highly knowledgeable and sophisticated Baltimore collector, who soon commissioned a view of Catskill Mountain House, a popular hotel overlooking the Hudson River Valley. After a summer spent sketching and painting in the area and corresponding with his patron concerning the selection of a new subject, Cole completed _Sunrise in the Catskills_ in early December and had it delivered to Baltimore on Christmas Day. According to the artist, the painting shows sunrise from Vly Mountain, a peak near the eastern headwaters of the Delaware River.
Cole chose a daringly elevated vantage point for the work, one where the viewer is poised looking out at several other mountains and at valleys filled with mist shining in the morning light. The foreground is filled with tangled bits of underbrush, contorted and fallen trees, and rough outcroppings of rock precariously situated at the slope's edge. This is not a tamed and cultivated portion of the American landscape but a remote, wild area with no evidence of human presence.
Upon receiving the picture, Gilmor wrote immediately to Cole: "It is extremely well painted, with great truth of nature. I have seen a thousand such scenes when in the mountains, and though the task was a very difficult one, yet you have perfectly succeeded in rendering the mists of the valley rising as the sun began to peep over the summits of the mountains."
As Cole's first fully expressed wilderness painting and a document of his relationship to his important early patron, _Sunrise in the Catskills_ is a pivotal work in the story of 19th-century American landscape painting, containing the seeds of Cole's later masterpieces and anticipating the great wilderness pictures of his pupil Frederic Edwin Church in the 1850s and 1860s.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication _American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I,_ pages 76-81, which is available as a free PDF at <u>https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-19th-century-part-1.pdf</u>