PREVIEW: Ed Ruscha: Course of an Empire, National Gallery

The National Gallery will present an exhibition examining how Ed Ruscha has helped to shape the way in which we see the American landscape. 


On display from the 11th June, Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire will allow visitors to the gallery to see the artist’s take on the cyclical nature of civilisation.

In 2005 Ruscha was invited to exhibit in the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. He selected a set of five black-and-white landscapes which he had painted in 1992 called Blue Collar Series, all of which feature his home city of Los Angeles. Seven years later he revisited each site, seeing how the buildings had changed in the interim and this time painting them in colour, describing the works as ‘an accelerated, aged version of the same urban landscape.’ 

Following this the artist called the series of ten works Course of Empire in response to a sequence of paintings created by Thomas Cole (1801–1848) in the 1830’s, which can be seen at the National Gallery  in Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire. This is the first time ever that these two very different approaches to the same subject have been brought together.

Talking about the exhibition Christopher Riopelle, The Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, says, Ruscha has long been fascinated by Thomas Cole’s painting cycle.  Cole used landscape to introduce allegory into American painting and showed how the movement of time could be inscribed into it. Ruscha took up the challenge. Where Cole’s cycle transpires over centuries, only a decade or more separates the pairs of paintings in Ruscha’s ‘Course of Empire’. That the two cycles are, briefly, together in the National Gallery allows us a unique opportunity to compare how two artists, more than 140 years apart, approached this related subject.”  

This is only the third time that all ten pieces of work have been displayed together – the first time was at the Venice Biennale in 2005, followed by an exhibition in New York in 2006.

Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire will be on display at the National Gallery from the 11th June until the 7th October. For more information visit:

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