Thomas Cole is generally acknowledged as the founder of the Hudson River School. The movement's paintings reflect three themes of 19th century America: discovery, exploration, and settlement. Hudson River artists, especially those influenced by Thomas Cole, developed an intensely romantic style that made idyllic natural settings glow with god-like energy, described as luminist. In general, Hudson River School artists believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was an ineffable manifestation of God. Though the artists varied in the depth of their religious convictions, their works express this idea quite beautifully.

Cole's own style is like the baroque, romantic, and plein-air styles that had gone before him, a unique psychological inspiration infused with a synthesis of the older European masters like Claude Lorrain (17th century baroque) and J. M. W. Turner (late 18th century romanticism). Cole's seemingly apocalyptic understanding of the psychology of the New World, displayed in the series The Course of The Empire and his other darker paintings, draws out a complex theory of the empire's "conquering" of God's natural creation. Painting in the 1800s until his untimely death in 1848, artists immediately before him included Emanuel Luetze and other painters and writers of the "Westward Expansion of the Empire." The Hudson Valley movement identified with the larger American Romantic movement of the 19th century as it progressed, which included the poetry and writing of Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Henry David Thoreau.

View of the Round Top in the Catskill Mountains

Lake with Dead Trees

Home in The Woods, 1847

View of the Round Top in the Catskill Mountains

The Voyage of Life

The Departure, 1838

The Course of The Empire – The Destruction

The Course of the Empire – The Desolation

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