Happy April to dear friends of the Warner Foundation!
This month we have chosen Catskill Mountain House by Thomas Cole for a belated celebration of Earth Day! Due in part to the work of Thomas Cole and his followers in the Hudson River School who depicted the remoteness and splendor of the American interior, we have today, a National Park System that encompasses 424 sites and 84 million acres of land.
Catskill Mountain House was the 7th Thomas Cole painting in the Jack Warner collection and could be technically considered one of Cole’s best, as it was painted at the peak of his career in 1846. (Jack’s 1st Thomas Cole acquisition was “Katterskill Falls”, purchased in the late 1970s, just as the artist was being re-discovered!) I remember vividly when Jack discovered this Mountain House painting at Christie's in December of 2003. He stood speechless gazing at it for what seemed like hours, transfigured by its brilliant colors and transcendental beauty. When he finally spoke to me, his exact words were:
“That’s America, the Shining City on the Hill!”
Jack proceeded to explain to me that the 13 Corinthian columns represented the 13 colonies and that the Mountain House was a metaphor for a shining temple from which America had been spiritually guided in its westward expansion. Jack was a true believer in the concept of American Exceptionalism and to him Cole was a kindred spirit.
In suggesting this new title for his new painting, Jack was of course referring to a famous quote from the sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” given by John Winthrop In 1630, in which he described the expectation that the Massachusetts Bay colony would shine like an example to the world.
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”
In celebrating Earth Day and the American landscape, I hope we will also celebrate the spirituality that has historically been a source of strength and guidance for American artists, pioneers, and leaders. We still are that shining city on the hill to which so many new immigrants clamor to enter! And the eyes of the world are still upon us, hoping that America will continue to be a beacon of hope, freedom, and opportunity shining throughout the world.
Be sure to see the article and video below of Jack Warner at auction to purchase this exquisite piece.
Our historian, Greg Balan, has again provided us with more historical context on the Catskill Mountain House and Cole’s message. Click on the button below to learn more
Susan G. Warner
Chair, Warner Foundation