Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Voyage of Life - Thomas Cole

The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art in Utica, New York is sending a collection of Thomas Cole paintings on an 18-month tour to four major art museums. “The Voyage of Life,” a series of four allegorical paintings depicting the different stages of life including “Childhood,” “Youth,” “Manhood,” and “Old Age,” will go to

the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 13–September 14, 2014
the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia,
the Saint Louis Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri,
and the Dickson Gallery & Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee.

MWPAI is producing a catalog to tour with the collection, which will include essays and notes as well as never-before-published material and research about the paintings.

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.

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.: