For Thomas Cole, landscape painting was more than the depiction of scenery. Through his paintings of the vast American wilderness, the artist hoped to stir the viewer to contemplate the natural purity and boundless promise of the New World. Both his art and his missionary zeal inspired several generations of American landscape painters known collectively as the Hudson River school.
This small painting dates from Cole's early career, when the young painter was first exploring the dramatic possibilities of landscape art. Based on studies made in New York's Catskill Mountains, the composition presents a romantic, deeply moral vision of primeval nature, its wildness contrasting with the corrupt, "civilized" landscapes of Europe. That Cole intended such paintings as hymns to nature and nature's God is amply borne out in his poetry. Writing in the same year as this painting, he exclaimed:
O may the voice of music that so chime
With the wild mountain breeze and rippling lake
Ne'er wake the soul but to a keener sense
Of nature's beauties.