Thomas Cole (American, 1801–1848)
Oil on canvas
28 1/4 x 40 1/16 in. (71.8 x 101.8 cm)
Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 (15.30.63)
Painted on a commission from the New York leather tanner Charles M. Leupp, The Mountain Ford may be based loosely on sketch material Cole gathered in the Adirondack Mountains. In his synthesis of sharp mountain profiles, the gnarled, virtually animate tree, and the fallen, shattered trunks and limbs, the artist here emphasizes the wilderness dimension of American scenery. It all overwhelms the lone traveler and his horse as it shies from fording the swift, branch-laden creek. Though the traveler in the landscape is a familiar type in both European and American traditions dating back to the Renaissance, the horseman and his dilemma may have had special significance for Cole at a time when he was contemplating his last and most ambitious religious landscape cycle, the five-part Cross and the World (1847–48; unfinished and unlocated), which pictured the human journey through life as a pilgrimage through a changing, often hostile, landscape. In a journal entry of New Year's Day, 1846, a few months before he executed The Mountain Ford in his Catskill, New York, studio, Cole described himself as "one who, traveling through a desert, comes to a deep stream . . . and fears to venture in the rushing waters. But I am about to venture. I have determined to commence in a short time . . . the Cross & the World."