Seeing Thomas Cole’s Diagram of Contrasts

Sunday I spent the morning with Richard Sharp, Will Coleman, Jesse Bransford, Lisa Martin and Meredith Kane at the Cole House in the Hudson River town of Catskill, seeing and discussing what is likely the first manifestation by an American painter of an interest in color music.

The piece is a stunning color wheel just under two feet in diameter. As its title—Diagram of Contrasts—suggests, it is particularly focused on the issue of contrast in color, with each of its twelve segments moving from near white to near black versions of one of six hues.

Cole described his motivation for doing the piece in his November 5, 1834 diary entry.