Saint Louis Art Museum exhibits ‘Voyage of Life’

Saint Louis Art Museum exhibits ‘Voyage of Life’

The Saint Louis Art Museum hosts an exhibit of works by 19th-century artist, Thomas Cole.

The Saint Louis Art Museum has a new exhibit, Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life, opening Feb. 7, 2015. This exhibition consists of four large landscapes by the 19th-century artist that represent four stages of life, plus other works related to these oil paintings. The artworks will be on display through Sept. 20, 2015, and are part of the permanent collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica, NY.

Each oil painting shows a man, ranging from a child to an old man, in a small boat drifting down a river. His companion is an angel. As the boat continues its journey, the scenes change. The first two paintings are filled with bright colors, indicating of adventure and excitement. The last two are darker with the male figure dealing with unknown twists and turns of the river and life.

Childhood shows the boat emerging from a cave into a day filled with sunny skies. Lush green foliage and colorful flowers fill the banks on both sides of the river. The child has his arms raised in a gesture of excitement about the wonder of his surroundings.

Adventure and imagination are key elements in Youth when a young lad sees an exotic castle take shape in the clouds. The river is calm with a row of trees on both sides and a large, jagged mountain in the distance. The youth is standing in the boat with one of his arms raised, greeting what is before him.

Manhood and Old Age are darker tones. Manhood shows rough waters gushing downhill into swirling rapids. The skies are sunny in the distance but storm clouds are rolling in. The man in the boat is standing with his hands clasped in front of him. Old Age shows an old man sitting in the boat, emerging from dark, stormy conditions as beams of sunlight break through the clouds.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was born in England and settled in the U.S. in 1818 with his family. He founded the Hudson River School that emphasized detailed romanticized landscapes of the Hudson Valley and nearby areas. The four paintings that comprise The Voyage of Life were completed in 1840 after having been commissioned by Samuel Ward, Sr., a wealthy banker and philanthropist.

Ward died before the works were finished. Cole later painted a second full-size set of the complete The Voyage of Life series. It is the second set that is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum is the first set.

During the second half of the 19th century, art museums were established in major East Coast cities. It was during this time that an art museum was also founded in St. Louis, MO, in 1879. The Saint Louis Art Museum has continued to add to its collection that is now more than 33,000 works and welcomes traveling exhibits, such as Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life.

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