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Distant View of Niagara Falls by Thomas Cole

Distant View of Niagara Falls by Thomas Cole, courtesy of

Niagara Falls, one of the continent's most famous natural spectacles, is dramatically depicted in this work by Thomas Cole. Cole's childhood in an industrialized area of England made him aware of the threat of commercial exploitation to the wilderness regions. He became passionately devoted to the natural scenery of his adopted country. Although the landscape of the time had already begun to show the effects of industrialization (1830's), his painting of the falls depicts unspoiled American wilderness. Cole sketched many versions of the falls from different viewpoints. Cole's awe of nature in clearly seen in this painting of the falls as his sketchbooks include notes on color, composition, as well as the sky and landscape.

Questions to Ask

What is the first thing that you see? (Focal point)

If you traveled to Niagara Falls today, how is Cole's view different from what you saw? Bring in pictures or books that show Niagara Falls today.

Where is Niagara Falls? How high are the falls? Have you heard the stories of people going over the falls in a barrel? What do you think about that?

Who are the two figures in the painting? Do you think they were natives of the area?

Describe the color and sketch elements of the painting that indicate autumn scene. In what month do the sky and leaves most closely resemble the autumn colors and sky in the painting?

Ask the students what kinds of color contrasts do they see? What is the mood of the painting? Color, light, and composition create meditative mood. Thick dabs paint fiery colors make up autumn leaves. White forms the water which is both powerful and peaceful. Greens and reds create harmony. The contrast between the white water, the color of the sun rays, and the bold purple colors draw to heavens.

Where does Cole place viewer in relationship to falls? The viewer looking out into the landscape has a sense of floating about the tree line, almost at a spiritual level. Cole once said of outdoors - overall rocks wood and water brooded the spirit and the silent energy of nature stirred the soul. How you do feel outdoors? Do you agree with Cole?

Activities for the Classroom

Additional Kid Friendly Resources at the AHML are "Niagara Falls" by Sarah De Capua, and "Field Trip to Niagara Falls (Geronimo Stilton)".

During the presentation play a CD of waves or rolling water or a waterfall.

Ask the students to select and an area near home or school and sketch what they might see at various times of the day. This painting is compilation of many different outlooks that Cole sketched and then combined to form a picture.

Ask the students to draw a picture of a waterfall and what they might find in the background.

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