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Depictions of American scenery always served as a backdrop for Thomas Cole’s storytelling. In this paradise-like, sun-filled valley, a family seems to live in harmony with nature. The painting features a scene of good fortune—a father and son being welcomed home from a successful hunt. The charming narrative is only one part of the work’s meaning, however. Cole’s painting imparts a moral lesson: settlement and the march of civilization come at a steep price—the defiling of untouched nature, here represented by the abundance of fallen trees in the foreground.

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