The Course of Empire series, of which we have 2 in our collection, is a collection of 5 artworks by Thomas Cole, painted between 1833–1836. The series is a reflection of American feelings at the time of painting, when many were opposed to the idea of the "empire" and believed that pastoralism was the best phase of civilisation. The series is comprised of the following artworks: The Course of Empire – The Savage State; The Arcadian or Pastoral State; The Course of Empire - Consummation; Destruction; and Desolation.
The same city is pictured throughout its lifecycle, and we can identify this from the distinct boulder sitting at the top of a crag overlooking the valley.
The Course of Empire - Savage State is the first in the series, depicting the ideal civilisation before the landscape has been changed by humanity. The cloudy skies hint at an uncertain future for the dwelling.
The Arcadian or Pastoral State shows the location slightly advanced in its timeline, with much of the pervious wilderness now being cultivated and agricultural land. A temple has been built, and smoke, indicating sacrifices, have been made. The scene is that of an urban Archaic Greek civilisation, and there is harmony between the land and the people living there.
The Course of Empire - The Consummation shows a society at the peak of its decadence. The simple temple is now a huge complex structure, with both sides of the river built up. The river, guarded at the mouth by two pharoi, is full of ships and trade, and the crowds are gathering for a triumphal procession. The scene is reminiscent of the days of Ancient Rome at its height, and this foreshadows the inevitable fall of the civilisation.
The Course of Empire - Destruction the fourth in the series, shows the destruction of the city by a fleet of enemy warriors, having sailed up the river under a stormy sky. The bridge from the previous painting, the centre of a triumphal march, has been destroyed and bodies lie where they fell as fire destroys the palace to the right. The destruction of Rome by the Vandals is likely the inspiration for this scene.
The Course of Empire - Desolation is the final work in the series showing the same city decades after its destruction. The remains of the city are still present, and highlighted by a moonrise and the dying day. The wilderness has overtaken the city again, and no humans are visible, although evidence of their architecture are visible under the trees and overgrowth. The gloomy atmosphere is a warning for how all empires may be after their fall, where the human civilisation has been destroyed by its own hand.
"The Course of Empire series was a natural theme for us to look at when selecting our next pocket square and lining collections, rich and dramatic pieces that are sure to stir one's emotions. These truly epic works by Thomas Cole sit beautifully in our range and have become instant best sellers as well as personal favourites. We've also received a number of interesting emails from customers with comments on how our own society sits so delicately between the Consummation and Destruction phases!"
Elliott Rampley, Co-Founder
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