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The Gothic Ruin, Frogmore House, Windsor, England

Not on view

The Gothic Ruin, Frogmore House, Windsor, England

Artist: Thomas Cole (American, born England, 1801 - 1848)

Date: 1829-1830
Medium: Black ink over graphite on laid paper
Overall: 8 7/8 x 15 3/8in. (22.5 x 39.1cm)
Markings: Watermark: Letters in upper left and device in upper right (illegible)
Inscribed: Recto, center (graphite): "Reflection"; Lower right (graphite): "flo[wers?]"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 87.28
Text Entries

This unsigned drawing was attributed to Cole in 1987, shortly after it was discovered.(2) At that time, Ellwood C. Parry suggested it could be a view of Newstead Abbey, which Cole visited and made drawings and one painting of when he was in England.(3) New research has established that it depicts the Gothic Ruin at Frogmore House in the Home Park at Windsor and, as such, is the first firm evidence of Cole having visited this site.(4) A travel guide he could have used noted that “a beautiful and highly picturesque Ruin . . . is seated on the bank of the lake, and presents an interesting object from various parts of the garden.”(5)

The leaves on the trees suggest that Cole probably made this drawing in either the summer or fall of 1829 or 1830, before he journeyed to Paris early in May 1831. Using an economical line, he rapidly sketched the principal outlines of the composition and shaded some of the trees in graphite as well.(6) He then reinforced the design in ink; however, these ink lines do not always slavishly follow the preliminary graphite lines, and the lower right corner of the sheet was not inked at all.(7) As in other drawings, Cole added written notations, which suggests he regarded this drawing as a memorandum to be used for a later painting if he wished.

Even though the Gothic Ruin at Frogmore House was not an ancient building, it suggested historical associations that, in Cole’s mind, were different from but not inferior to the ones that the primordial American wilderness brought to his mind. Comparing their relative merits, Cole noted that “though American scenery is destitute of many of those circumstances that give value to the European, still it has features, and glorious ones, unknown to Europe.”(8)


1. The uneven top and right edges of the MWPI sheet and the ink and pencil lines that run to these edges suggest that the drawing was trimmed on these two sides.

2. Jill Newhouse to Ellwood C. Parry III, March 27, 1987, curatorial files, Munson- Williams-Proctor Institute.

3. Parry to Newhouse, April 8, 1987, curatorial files, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. For Cole’s sojourn in England see Ellwood C. Parry III, The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988), 95—115.

4. The Gothic Ruin was initially identified by Virginia Kelly, Barneveld, N.Y. Its identity was confirmed by Jane Roberts, curator of the print room, The Royal Library, Windsor Castle, to author, October 19, 1992.

5. The Windsor Guide, with a Brief Account of Eton. A New Edition (Windsor and London: Charles Knight, 1825), 139. James Wyatt designed the Gothic Ruin in the early 1790s for Queen Charlotte. See Anthony Dale, James Wyatt (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1956), 180-81.

6. Cole drew the foliage with the looping line he often used for this type of detail. Stylistically, this pictorial formula is not very different from the one Archibald Robertson prescribed for trees, which he illustrated in his Elements of the Graphic Arts (New York: David Longworth, 1802), Table III, figs. 8, 11, and 13, facing 7. Robertson’s diagrams were published in Edward Nygren et al., Views and Visions: American Landscape Before 1830 (Washington, D.C.: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1986), 20, pl. 18.

7. For the ideological context in which Cole’s unfinished drawings were made, see Wendelin A. Guentner, “British Aesthetic Discourse, 1780-1830: The Sketch, the Non Finito, and the Imagination,” Art Journal 52 (Summer 1993): 41-42.

8. Thomas Cole, “An Essay on American Scenery,“ in John W. McCoubrey, American Art, 1700-1960: Sources and Documents (Englewood Cliffs, N.].: Prentice- Hall,1965), 101.


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