This is Thomas Cole’s Expulsion – Moon and Firelight (1828, Oil on canvas, 35 7/8 in x 47 7/8 in), one of those pieces that I find very inspiring. It’s a bit different than the images by Cole that I normally cite (like his Course of the Empire series, check out http://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/kjohnso1/colecourse.html), but it’s an interesting piece.
It reminds me of the modern fantasy works, as if we are peering into Cole’s magical, unique world. Despite there not being a human element, which is most often found in his work, Cole offers up a dynamic, powerful image that grabs you and doesn’t let go. There’s a story here, and he leaves the viewer with a sense that they are seeing a great battle of light and darkness.
Cole uses the high contrast in the piece beautifully. We have a midtone piece throughout, and the dark and light colors all lead to the very bright, seemingly hot gate of fire just off center. Cole’s use of subtlety throughout the piece is punctuated by the intense brightness of the gate, and it’s as if we can feel the fire itself burning through the canvas.
Cole uses his colors wisely as well. None of the colors, from the subtle reds, greens and blues around the edges to the rusty rock in the center, ever take over the image. They all serve the whole piece, a sum of parts all pointing to a dynamic centerpiece of light.
The piece is really a battle of light and darkness, both of which are very strong and at once complimentary and opposing. Cole has brought us through the darkness to the light, from here it’s up to us to follow into the gate of light or fall into the chasm of darkness. It’s an intriguing piece, one that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.