Thomas Cole's "The Voyage of Life"

The Voyage of Life on National Tour June 1, 2014 through April 4, 2016

Last day to see the Voyage of Life before they leave on tour is March 2

The Voyage of Life: Childhood by Thomas Cole

The Voyage of Life: Childhood by Thomas Cole

Early in March of 1839, Thomas Cole was commissioned by the prominent New York banker and philanthropist Samuel Ward Sr., to paint an allegorical series of four paintings entitled "The Voyage of Life", the subject of which he had conceived in the fall of 1836.

Cole began work with great enthusiasm on the first of the series, named "Childhood" in September 1839, using as his guide a number of preliminary pencil drawings and oil sketches. Despite the unexpected death of his patron several months later, he continued working on this picture until early 1840 when it was in large measure complete.

Early in 1840, Cole began work on "Youth", the second picture. The third picture, "Manhood", was painted in the summer and fall of 1840, followed by "Old Age", the last picture of the series.

 

The Voyage of Life: Youth by Thomas Cole

The Voyage of Life: Youth by Thomas Cole

His great achievement in "The Voyage of Life" was his synthesis of three related ideas: life is a pilgrimage; a person's life can be divided into four distinct stages; and the course of a person's life can be metaphorically compared to a journey on a river that winds its way through a magical landscape. Cole invented a program that combined these three universal themes in simple pictorial terms.

Despite the unexpected death of Ward several months after Cole began the series, he completed the four paintings in 1840. Difficulties with Ward's heirs prompted Cole to paint a second full-size set in Rome during the winter of 1841-1842. The second set of paintings is now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.