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In the first painting belonging to the quartet The Voyage of Life, Thomas Cole depicts his interpretation of childhood. Using oil on canvas this enchanted, idyllic world was produced in 1842 only six years before Cole's death.
At an initial glance this colourful painting takes on a Moses style theme with the main focus being the brightly endorsed guardian angel, guiding the baby from a gloomy caved area, in a boat out into the flowing river. The angel stands tall at the stern of the boat in his pure white gown overseeing the young infant. The baby in question is red haired, naked, surrounded by flowers and appears to be content with the world he has been presented with.
The floating vessel itself is adorned with floral garnish and embellished by wooden, angelic figures who appear to be almost rising from the cool, deep blue waters below. The main figure head of the The Voyage of Life Childhood is an angelic fairy. In her right hand she lifts a sand timer to the sky portraying the essence of time passing.
The rocky crags loom above the river and cave are menacing with a thick, ominous cloud covering. Below this a beautiful sunrise is breaking through and a stunning, floral display is gradually waking from its slumber. The sunlight is radiant against the mixture of meadow, fauna and flower colourings that Cole has favoured for this piece. Reds, greens, oranges and yellows seem to drape themselves towards the purpose of this works leading your eye cleverly to the angel’s halo and onto the cherub in question.
Cole's other three oil painting in this journey set take you through Youth, Manhood and Old Age. Each one involving: the intricate vessel, the guardian angel and the boy travelling through the various stages of life. All bringing their own mix of seasons, shadings and surroundings assisting to evoke emotions relevant to the aging process. Primarily a landscape painter, Thomas Cole founded the art based Hudson River School after emigrating from Lancashire, England.
This self-taught artist was well known for many other oil on canvas pieces including The Titan's Goblet, The Course of Empire and The Oxbow alongside The Voyage of Life. He influenced many artists including Asher B Durand and Frederic Edwin Church amongst others. The Voyage of Life set fell foul to a disagreement so in 1842 Cole produced a second set of these oil paintings. Both can still be observed – one at Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Utica, New York and the second in Washington, DC the National Gallery of Art.