Thomas Coles The Oxbow

A Romantic study of America in the European landscape style
The painting of “The Oxbow” is on its surface merely a landscape
portrayal of a meandering river that folds back upon itself in the shape of
a bow or oxtail.Today, the work hangs in The Metropolitan Museum of Art
in the section of the museum devoted to American Romanticism.The American
painter Thomas Cole originally painted the work 1836.This was during the
end of the Romantic period of art in Europe, but only the beginning of the
flourishing of the Romantic Movement in American art.The painting’s
style, perspective, and ideological themes makes use of European aspects of
the landscape tradition and Romantic ideology, yet ultimately its rendition
of these themes is quintessentially and uniquely American in the ways that
it portrays the themes of humanity versus nature and the wilderness versus
In gazing upon the painting, the viewer notes that the painting is
situated in its perspective in such a fashion, in traditional Romantic
style, that the individual gazer’s perspective has predominance over the
natural subject.The subject of the oxtail of the river is situated at a
distance, with trees closer to the viewer’s line of perspective.Thus, the
act of gazing upon the river is given equal importance to the actual
depiction of nature itself.Thus, the Romantic stress upon nature, but
specifically humanity’s perception and interpretation of nature thus is at
the forefront of the organization of the painting. The painting’s
organization ultimately asks not what is nature, but what transpires when
humanity gazes at and interacts with nature.
Furthermore, the apparent random organization of a natural body of
water is not present in “The Oxbow.”In Romantic renderings of art, but in
American Romanticism in particular, “Romanticism set up opposition to the
Neo-classic insistence on order and hierarchy b…


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