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The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds
Date 1833-1834
Artist:Thomas Cole, 1801-1848
Dimensions 101 1/2 x 185 1/2 in. (257.8 x 471.2 cm) Overall, Frame: 110 x 193 in. (279.4 x 490.2 cm)
Medium Oil on canvas
Credit Line Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. in memory of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch
Description This very large oil on canvas painting exhibits the Biblical story from the book of Luke. The upper left corner of the canvas is filled with the aura and light of the "heavenly host" as angels appear to the shepherds. The shepherds in the foreground hold three different postures. The first on his face, the second leans back holding out his arm and the third stands quietly facing the sight leaning on his staff. The dark sky of the background is illuminated by a single bright star hovering over an unseen nativity.
Exhibition HistoryAmerican Academy of the Fine Arts in New York, N.Y., Spring 1834.
Mayor's Court Room, Albany City Hall, Albany, N.Y., 1834.
Boston, Mass., Fall 1834.
Albany Museum, Albany, N.Y., 1835.
"12th Exhibition of Paintings in the Athenaeum Gallery," Boston Athenæum, Mass., 1838. (Exh. cat. no. 4)
"Annual Exhibitions," Boston Athenæum, Boston, Mass., 1838-1844, 1848, 1850, 1852, 1857-1873.
"A Gallery Collects," Hirschl & Alder, New York, N.Y., 1977. (Exh. cat. no. 15)
"Reopening of the Joan P. Brock Galleries," Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va., Opening in March of 2008.
Published ReferencesWilliam Dunlap, "Mr. Cole's Picture," _New-York American_ XIV, no. 1331 (March 21, 1834): 1.
"Miscellaneous Notices of the Fine Arts, Literature, Science, the Drama, &c.," _The American Monthly Magazine_ III, no. 2 (April 1834): 139-140.
Mabel Munson Swan, with an introduction by Charles Knowles Bolton, _The Athenæum Gallery, 1827-1873: The Boston Athenæum as an Early Patron of Art_ (Boston, Mass.: The Boston Athenæum, 1940), 127-128.
Louis Legrand Noble, edited by Elliot S. Vesell, _The Life and Works of Thomas Cole_ (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1964), 100, 136-137, 138.
Henry T. Tuckerman, _Book of the Artists_ (New York: James F. Carr, 1967), 230, 627.
William H. Gerdts, Jr., "Cole's Painting 'After the Temptation'," _The Baltimore Museum of Art: Studies on Thomas Cole, An American Romanticist_ Annual II (1967): 105.
Ellwood C. Parry III, "Thomas Cole and the Problem of Figure Painting," _American Art Journal_ 4 (March 1972): 79-86.
Catalog notes by Nancy Wall Moure, essay by Donelson F. Hoopes, _American Narrative Painting_, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, Calif., 1974, 50-51. ISBN: 0875870600
_A Gallery Collects_, exh. cat., Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, N.Y., 1977, no. 15.
Thomas W. Styron, "Major Acquisition on View," _The Chrysler Museum Bulletin_ 10, no. 5 (May 1980): cover, not paged.
Ellwood C. Parry III, "Recent discoveries in the art of Thomas Cole: New light on lost works," _Antiques Magazine_ 120 (November 1981): 1156-1165.
_The Chrysler Museum: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Norfolk, Virginia_ (Norfolk: Chrysler Museum, 1982), 83. ISBN: 0-940744-37-6
"Study for The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds," _The Chrysler Museum Bulletin_ 14, no. 8 (August 1984): not paged.
John Dillenberger, _The Visual Arts and Christianity in America: The Colonial Period through the Nineteenth Century_ (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984), 100, plate 43. ISBN: 0891307613
William H. Gerdts and Mark Thistlethwaite, _Grand Illusions: History Painting in America_ (Fort Worth, TX: Amon Carter Museum, 1988), 98, 100, fig. 49. ISBN: 0883600560
Ellwood C. Parry III, _The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination_ (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988), 116, 119-120, 149-151, 153-154, plate 9. ISBN: 0874132142
Irma B. Jaffe, ed., _The Italian Presence in American Art, 1760-1860_ (New York & Rome: Fordham University Press; Istituto della enciclopedia Italiana, 1989), 112, 115, 125-126, plate 53. ISBN: 0823212491
Earl A. Powell, _Thomas Cole_ (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1990), 58, 64, 66. ISBN: 0810931583
Jefferson C. Harrison, _The Chrysler Museum Handbook of the European and American Collections: Selected Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings_ (Norfolk: The Chrysler Museum, 1991), 92, pl. 69. ISBN: 0-940744-59-7, 0-940744-62-7
Gerald L. Carr, _Frederic Edwin Church: Catalogue Raisonné of Works of Art at Olana State Historic Site_ (Cambridge, England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 54.
William H. Truettner and Alan Wallach, ed., _Thomas Cole: Landscape into History_, exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1994.
John Davis, _The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture_ (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), 56, no. 13.
Martha N. Hagood and Jefferson C. Harrison, _American Art at the Chrysler Museum: Selected Paintings, Sculpture, and Drawings_ (Norfolk, Va.: Chrysler Museum of Art, 2005), 52-53, no. 24.
David Bjelajac, _Thomas Cole's Oxbow and the American Zion Divided_, Volume 20, Number 1. University of Chicago Press in association with the Smithsonian American art Museum. 2006, 78 & 79, no. 19.
Stanley Ellis Cushing and David B. Dearinger, _ Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum_ (Boston, MA: The Boston Athenaeum, 2007), 45-47, fig.15.
Jeff Harrison, _Collecting with Vision: Treasures From the Chrysler Museum of Art_ (London: D. Giles Ltd., 2007), 60, fig. 59.
Robin Kelsey, _Archive Style: Photographs & Illustrations for U.S. Surveys, 1850-1890_ (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, Ltd., 2007), 67.
Ross Barrett, "Violent Prophecies: Thomas Cole, Republican Aesthetics, and the Political Jeremiad," _American Art_ 27 (2013): 24-49.
Provenance The artist until 1837; Boston Atheneum, 1837-1977; Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 1977; Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.; Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., in memory of Colonel Edgar William and Mrs. Bernice Chrysler Garbisch to the Chrysler Museum, 1980.
Catalog Entry Thomas Cole Bolton-le-Moor, England 1801-1848 Catskill, N.Y. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1833-34 Oil on canvas, 101 1/2 × 185 1/2 in. (257.8 × 471 cm) Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., in Memory of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 80.30 References: Ellwood C. Parry III, The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination, Newark, Del., 1988, pp. 119-20, 149-51, 153-54; Harrison, 1991, p. 92; William H. Truettner, Alan Wallach et al., Thomas Cole, Landscape into History, New Haven, 1994, p. 46. Thomas Cole was America's first great landscape painter and the progenitor of the influential group of mid-­nineteenth-century New York landscapists known as the Hudson River School (see objects 71.499, 81.109, 89.59, 63.34.1). Born in Lancashire, England, Cole immigrated with his family to Philadelphia in 1818. Over the next several years he labored to teach himself the art of painting as his family moved from Philadelphia to Ohio to western Pennsylvania. In 1825, after additional study in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Cole settled in New York City. There his early landscape pictures were hailed by fellow artists John Trumbull and Asher B. Durand (see object 71.499). The young artist was suddenly famous. Cole journeyed to Europe twice, in 1829-32 and again in 1841-42. While in New York between these visits he painted the two ambitious allegorical series for which he is most remembered: The Course of Empire in 1836 and The Voyage of Life, 1840. By the time of his death in 1848 (he died unexpectedly of a lung inflammation, probably pleurisy), he had become New York's leading artist and America's first fully Romantic painter. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds is Cole's largest canvas-it measures more than eight by fifteen feet-and one of his earliest and most ambitious attempts at historical landscape painting. It was produced, without commission, in New York City during the winter of 1833-34, and as Cole later noted in a letter to his friend Francis Alexander, it was completed in the astonishingly brief span of "about two months; I could not afford more [time]." Though Cole executed the canvas rapidly, his initial ideas and designs for it evolved over several years, during his first European trip of 1829-32. He conceived of the subject in 1829, while visiting the British Museum in London, where he saw Rembrandt's 1634 etching of The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds. Impressed by its compositional grandeur and dramatic chiaroscuro effects, he began making preliminary drawings for his own composition while in England. During a visit to Florence in 1831-32, he expanded upon these initial sketches with more drawings and painted figure studies (several of which are today in the Detroit Institute of Arts), and he also produced at least three small preparatory compositional sketches in oil in 1831-33. Two of these are in the Chrysler Museum of Art (see objects 84.32, 86.193). The painting's shepherds were almost certainly intended as allegorical representations of the three ages of man. They were also meant to signify three successively higher states of spiritual response to the miraculous apparition of the angel, beginning with the stunned incomprehension of the kneeling, nearly prostrate youth and culminating in the quiet understanding and acceptance of the standing elder. Cole derived the semi­reclining pose of the middle shepherd from the antique sculptures of the Ilissus and the Dying Gaul, both of which he had sketched while in Europe. Some scholars have noted that the middle shepherd bears a resemblance to Cole and may be an idealized self-portrait. The artist exhibited The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds in the spring of 1834 at the American Academy of the Fine Arts in New York City. It was shown later that year in Albany, New York, and Boston. In 1838 the painting entered the collection of the Boston Atheneum, where it was prominently exhibited until 1889. Unseen and nearly forgotten until its 1976 restoration, it is celebrated today as one of Cole's most ambitious works before The Course of Empire. JCH Martha N. Hagood and Jefferson C. Harrison, _American Art at the Chrysler Museum: Selected Paintings, Sculpture, and Drawings_ (Norfolk, Va.: Chrysler Museum of Art, 2005), 52-53, no. 24.
Object Label Thomas Cole American (1801-1848) The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1833-34 Oil on canvas, 101 1/2 x 185 1/2 in. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., in memory of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch 80.30 Thomas Cole was America's first great landscape painter and the founder of the group of mid-nineteenth-century New York landscapists known as the Hudson River School. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds is Cole's largest canvas and one of his earliest and most ambitious attempts at historical landscape painting. It was produced in New York during the winter of 1833-34, and as Cole later said, it was completed in the astonishingly brief span of "about two months; I could not afford more [time]." The dramatic New Testament story unfolds in a sweeping nocturnal landscape struck by bursts of heavenly light. Appearing in golden light, an angel announces Christ's birth to startled shepherds in the fields below; the light surrounding the angel serves as a symbol of spiritual awakening. The shepherds, for example, represent three successively higher states of spiritual response to the angel's message, beginning with the stunned fear of the praying youth and culminating in the quiet understanding of the standing elder. Some scholars have noted that the middle shepherd bears a resemblance to Cole and may be an idealized self-portrait.
Object Number 80.30