London’s National Gallery Will Celebrate American Artists With Exhibitions of Ed Ruscha and Thomas Cole

The two shows will be staged alongside each other so as to highlight Cole's influence on Ruscha's practice.

Ed Ruscha. ©Photography by Manfredi Gioacchini. Image Courtesy of Ed Ruscha and Gagosian.

In what can be considered somewhat of a tribute to American artists, the National Gallery in London is set to present two separate yet complementary exhibitions of work by Thomas Cole and Ed Ruscha, slated to run side-by-side beginning in June 2018.

Cole, who is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, is best known for his romantic depictions of the American wilderness as well as his allegorical paintings—the most famous being Course of Empire. Produced between 1833 and 1836, the series shows the same landscape in different phases: beginning with pristine nature, the works go on to show an empire in its prime, followed by its decline and dissolution.

Thomas Cole, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow (1836). ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The forthcoming London exhibition, titled “Thomas Cole’s Journey,” will present Course of Empire as well as the seminal 1836 painting The Oxbow, which has never been shown in the UK. Additionally, the show will compare Cole’s oeuvre to those of his English peers, including J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, in a bid to “bring to light the dialogue between American and European artists of the mid-19th century.”

Though the Ruscha and Cole shows are intended to function as independent exhibitions, they will nonetheless manage to play off one another: Ruscha’s site-specific installation—which was first mounted at the Venice Biennale in 2005, and will be restaged in London—is also called Course of Empire, taking its title from Cole’s paintings of the same name.

©National Gallery, London

The installation, comprised of ten acrylic-on-canvas paintings, is meant to act as an updated take on the mid-19th century painter’s interpretation of “the cyclical nature of civilization.”

Like Cole’s Course of Empire, Ruscha’s version is made up of paintings portraying the same landscape in various states of decay, though the contemporary artist’s translation is set in urban Los Angeles. Both series echo the two artists’ concerns with the state of the US, expressing anxiety that the country will eventually destroy itself in its ambitions.

Thomas Cole’s Journey” and “Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire” will be on view at The National Gallery in London from June 11-October 7, 2018.


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