Watercolorist and illustrator Talbott, a Cole admirer and evangelist, has produced a child-friendly paean to the brief (1801-1848) but productive life of an American landscape-painting pioneer.
Born in Britain, Cole immigrated to the United States as a teen, worked as an itinerant craftsman, and began art studies in Philadelphia before moving to New York. Soon, prompted by a patron, Cole took his first voyage up the Hudson and discovered his passion for the American landscape. Though his life was brief, his dramatic paintings struck a deep chord and spawned a wholly new, uniquely American “school”—the Hudson River landscape school. Talbott’s admiration is clear, but backmatter is sorely needed: There is no glossary, no timeline, and little detail to help readers grasp the impressive size and ambition of Cole’s two major painting series: The Course of Empire (five paintings at 39.5 inches by 63.5 inches each) and The Voyage of Life (four paintings at approximately 52 inches by 72 inches each). Readers will long for context to flesh out cursory references to such influences as England’s J.M.W. Turner, mentor American artist John Trumbull, and Cole’s artistic progeny, Asher Durand and Frederic Church, as well as the Hudson River landscape school itself.
This notwithstanding, Talbott has produced a handsome, valuable companion to River of Dreams (2009) and an accessible and inspired introduction to an important, influential promoter of the unspoiled American landscape. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)