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Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1828)

Thomas Cole

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‘Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’ is an oil painting on canvas by Thomas Cole painted in 1828, depicting Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. Unlike many other depictions of the Fall of Man, Cole emphasises the landscape instead of the figures, dwarfing Adam and Eve within nature’s grand-scale majesty symbolising its divine power. In Cole’s 1835 essay on American Scenery, he described the capacity of the American wilderness to reveal God’s creation as a metaphoric Eden, whereas he considered Europe to reflect the ravages of civilization destroying the land. Since Cole emigrated from America to England at the age of eighteen, it is possible that the painting had a personal touch, an expression of his departure from the Eden-like American wilderness to his perceived wreckage of Europe.

The painting uses pathetic fallacy (the attribution of human emotions to natural elements e.g. sullen clouds) and vivid imagery to present the divide between the Garden of Eden and the harsh wasteland from which Adam and Eve were ultimately expelled. On the right-hand side, Paradise is presented with sunny blue skies, flora and fauna, waterfalls, lakes, and majestic mountains. On the left, Cole depicts an arid wilderness with aggressive winds, an erupting volcano, a stormy sky, ravaged trees, savage beasts, and a lack of thriving life. The two worlds meet in the centre of the painting through a rocky archway with a pure light shining through from Eden, showing the contrast of light and darkness between the two plains. Water flows out through the archway from Eden representing the impossibility of return and the permanence of their expulsion.

The two landscapes are starkly in contrast to one another, Eden is washed with peace and symbiosis, whereas the expelled land is a tempestuous chaos. The small scale of Adam and Eve places importance on the effect the fall had on nature and gives the impression that they are being swallowed by the landscape. Their body language shows shame in their actions and their fear and residence as if they are being pushed into the wasteland by a divine force. In presenting the expulsion through the landscape, Cole reveals what they have lost and the harsh reality of the land they are expelled to, equally using the landscape to symbolise their internal journey from blissful innocence to harrowing knowledge.

Alice Dawson

Reviewed by Alice Dawson

Alice Dawson is an artist and writer based in London, currently completing a Masters in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. Her work has recently been exhibited at Standpoint Gallery and Filet Project Space, with writing published in the Royal College of Art library. Through sculptural, written and moving image practices, Alice engages with spiritual solutions to societal disorder and ecological destruction, whereby our spiritual connection to the natural world is fundamental to our healing.

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