| |Thomas Cole The Voyage of Life More
series painted in 1840, is a series of paintings that represent an allegory of the four stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. The Voyage of Life paintings follow a voyager who travels in a boat on a river through the mid-19th century American wilderness. In each painting, accompanied by a guardian angel, the voyager rides the boat on the River of Life. The landscape, corresponding to the seasons of the year, plays a major role in telling the story. In each picture, the boat's direction of travel is reversed from the previous picture. In childhood, the infant glides from a dark cave into a rich, green landscape. As a youth, the boy takes control of the boat and aims for a shining castle in the sky. In manhood, the adult relies on prayer and religious faith to sustain him through rough waters and a threatening landscape. Finally, the man becomes old and the angel guides him to heaven across the waters of eternity.
"The Voyage of Life" was well received by critics and the public; the United States was experiencing the religious revival sometimes known as the Second Great Awakening. The four Thomas Cole Voyage of Life paintings were converted to engravings by James Smillie after Cole's death and the engravings widely distributed in time for the Third Great Awakening, giving the series the prestige and popular acclaim it retains today. You can click on to browse all four Thomas Cole The Voyage of Life together.
In the first painting, The Voyage of Life Childhood, all the important story elements of the series are introduced: the voyager, the angel, the river, and the expressive landscape.
The second painting, The Voyage of Life Youth, shows the same rich, green landscape, but here the view widens as does the voyager's experience.
The next painting, The Voyage of Life Manhood, the youth has grown into an adult and now faces the trials of life. The boat is damaged and the tiller is gone. The river has become a terrible rush of white water with menacing rocks, dangerous whirlpools, and surging currents.
The final painting, The Voyage of Life Old Age, is an image of death. The man has grown old; he has survived the trials of life. The waters have calmed; the river flows into the waters of eternity.