Two centuries ago, the paintings of an English-born landscape artist lured adventurers into the American wilderness.
Long after his death, Thomas Cole's artistic legacy helped spearhead the conservation movement. His romanticized landscapes remain iconic American images.
Silkscreen reproductions of some of his major works are on display at the Ravalli County Museum
Museum director Tamar Stanley worked hard to get the exhibition to Hamilton through the National Endowment of the Humanities. It will be on display at the museum until August 10.
It's called "Wild Land, Thomas Cole And The Birth of American Landscape Painting."
The European immigrant fell in love with his adopted country's wild view sheds. He didn't just paint the natural world. He celebrated it. His landscapes shine.
"An iridescent illumination," said Stanley, "that lets your imagination take you to that next step in the painting."
Much of it is 19th century east coast, the Catskills of New York, the Hudson River Valley.
It "relates back to Montana and the Bitterroot," said Stanley, "because of the legacy that we have, the wilderness."
You don't see many people in Cole's paintings. But if you look at his trees, rocks and waterfalls you might want to slip in unnoticed. Cole's pictures have that affect. They transfixed people from other countries.
"People suddenly were excited to come to America and see this lovely, unspoiled wilderness," said Stanley.
His art attracted tourists, and maybe helped invite the human progress that would change the wild country he loved. But he was an early conservationist.
"Husbanding our resources and stewarding the land," said the museum director.
And Cole influenced generations of American artists.