The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole
The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole
The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole

The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole

  • Thomas Cole is recognized as the founder and most important member of the Hudson River School
  • This awe-inspiring landscape is a stunning example of his allegorical subjects
  • The monumental piece is a well-developed study for his famed The Voyage of Life series
  • It represents this great artist's unparalleled creativity and exceptional output
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Item No. 30-8867
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Thomas Cole
1801-1848 | American

The Voyage of Life: Manhood

Signed, dated and inscribed "The Voyage of Life / Thomas Cole / 1840 / Catskill" (en verso)
Oil on canvas

Recognized as the founding father and most important member of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole is undoubtedly also one of the most complex and ambitious figures in American art history. While he is most widely associated with his Hudson River School paintings, it is perhaps his famed The Voyage of Life series that is among the best known of his oeuvre. The present work, entitled The Voyage of Life: Manhood, represents an important and monumental oil study for this allegorical series, which today can be found in the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.).

The Voyage of Life: Manhood represents the third in Cole's four-part series that traces the journey of man along the "River of Life." The first two works in the series - Childhood and Youth - are bright scenes that reflect hope and innocence, while the last two - Manhood and Old Age - are far more dramatic with a darker palette. Cole completed two iterations of the series, the first for Samuel Cutler Ward in 1840 (Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, New York) and the second in 1842 (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.). Given this study is dated 1840, it was almost certainly completed as an advanced study for the second 1842 version of Manhood.

The work itself represents the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Cole's middle-aged traveler is depicted traveling in a boat along an increasingly turbulent stream, seemingly leading him into a dark ravine representing the fury of nature. As he plunges amid the tumultuous waters, he raises his face towards the sky, as though imploring the heavens for aid. Many view these works as a Christian allegory, as Cole's composition seems to imply that salvation can be found solely in the heavens rather than on earth. That his voyager looks up imploringly shows his belief in this heavenly power, and his belief that his faith will save him on his life's journey.

Aside from its religious allusions, the work can also be read as the life journey of America itself. At the time when Cole created the work, the country was still a nation in its adolescence, and the ideals of Western expansion and Manifest Destiny permeated American art and culture. Cole's voyager-explorer has come to represent this American journey. In a sense, it serves as a warning against the feverish quest for expansion, which could have dire consequences on the preservation of nature and the land. That man's "damnation" is represented by nature's fury further supports Cole's pictorial foreboding.

This remarkable depth of meaning and its superior execution places Cole's The Voyage of Life among the most ingenious works of his generation. While his contemporaries were painting Sublime views of the American landscape, Cole pushed the boundaries of artistic creation, sometimes to the detriment of his own career aspirations. The present work is a representation of this great artist's unparalleled creativity and exceptional output, which remains among the best and most unique in American art history.

Born in Lancashire, England, in 1801, Thomas Cole was trained at an early age as an engraver of woodblocks, which were used for the printing of calico. As he never received any formal training in fine art, many of his aesthetic ideals were derived from literature and poetry. In 1818, the Cole family emigrated to America, moving first to Ohio and later settling in Philadelphia, where Cole began to make detailed studies of the cityscape and surrounding landscape.

By the mid-1820s, Cole became determined to pursue the art of landscape, and he fell under the influence of the early American landscape painters Thomas Doughty and Thomas Birch. Eventually, Cole moved to New York, where he encountered the picturesque region of the Hudson River. His sketches of the area brought him to the attention of important local collectors and patrons, and from then on his future as an artist was secured.

In addition to his remarkable Hudson River School landscapes, Cole's oeuvre came to include Gothic fantasies, religious allegories (such as the present work), and idyllic pastorals. After reaching his maturity, he helped to foster the careers of other great American artists, including Asher Durand and Frederic Edwin Church. Today, his exceptional paintings can be found in nearly every important collection of American art, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.), National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and many others.

Dated 1840

Canvas: 25 1/2" high x 39 1/8" wide
Frame: 39 5/8" high x 52 3/4" wide

References:
The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, New York, 1895, by P.D. Schweizer, p. 22, fig. 22 (illustrated)
The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination, New Jersey, 1988, by E.C. Parry III, p. 256, fig. 206 (illustrated)

Provenance:
Maria Bartow Cole
by descent to Florence Hill Cole Vincent, Catskill, New York
O. Rundle Gilbert, Garrison-on-Hudson, New York, September 26, 1964
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale
specifications
Period: 1816-1918
Origin:America
Subject:Landscape
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