The cultural options in a metropolis like London are (or should be) vast and sometimes it is difficult to choose. But I had no doubts when I looked at the flyer for the National Gallery exhibition on Thomas Cole (1801-1848). I didn't know this English born American painter but I did know his paintings.
Something we learn soon after we walk into the room is that Mr. Cole was not painting landscapes only for aesthetic reasons but because he was an eager environmentalist and campaigner; born during the industrial revolution he was quick to identify the damage that uncontrolled development, materialism and lack of respect for nature would bring upon us. And that is the plot line of The Course of Empire; five depictions of the same location that show the evolution or de-evolution of the natural landscape “thanks” to the hand of mankind and its craving for control, power and wealth.
All in all it was a good show, nothing to intellectual, but it triggered my fantasy and it happened to convey a good message.
Fantastic civilisations have always captured my imagination and that was the main reason to pick this exhibition. There are plenty of examples of these imaginary landscapes and metropolis that mix up the Greek, Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs... Here I include Cole's series plus some of my favourite images, from Romantic paintings to blockbuster movie sets.
The Course of Empire: Savage state. Nature reigns...
The Course of a Empire: Pastoral state. Humans living in harmony with nature...
The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire. Greed! Materialism! Power! Control!
The Course of Empire: Destruction. It was bound to happen...
The Course of Empire: Desolation... and nature takes over once again.
John Martin, Belshazzar's Feast, c.1821. Ray Harryhausen, the father of SFX, got inspiration on Martin's paintings to create his movie sets. Epic!
Matte painting from Atlantis the Lost Continent (1961). Matte paintings made at MGM matte department under Lee LeBlanc. Vintage charm.
Set from Alien: Covenant (2017) by Damien Drew and his team. Beautiful, of course, it's Alien.