Thomas Cole composed this painting from sketches made in 1844 on Mount Desert Island, on the Maine coast. He vividly described the locale: “The whole coast along here is iron bound—threatening crags, and dark caverns in which the sea thunders. The view of Frenchman’s bay and islands is truly fine. Some of the islands, called porcupines,...glitter in the setting sun.” In this evocative landscape, the elongated format creates a sweeping panorama.
Cole used the raw grandeur of the American wilderness to articulate philosophical ideas and his thoughts about the nation’s destiny. By showing the bay as a squall is clearing—when sky and sea are at their most theatrical—and by placing at center a tiny, storm-tossed ship, Cole may allude to the insignificance of man before the awesome power of nature. His works influenced an entire generation of American artists, most notably his protégé Frederic Edwin Church, who painted Mount Desert Island on several occasions.
Cole sought to create the sense of a specific locale in his paintings, but he was not concerned with accuracy. In this painting he rearranged islands off the coast of Maine to create a more effective composition.