Next month, the Saint Louis Art Museum will present Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life, a celebration of what many believe to be the most important allegorical series in American art. The free exhibition opens February 7 in Gallery 336.
The exhibition is one of three coinciding exhibitions exploring multiple visions of landscape and the river in 19th-century American art. Visitors also are encouraged to see Scenic Wonder: An Early American Journey Down the Hudson River and, starting February 22, Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River.
The exhibition is possible because of a generous loan of the Voyage of Life series by the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute.
In each of the series’ four massive paintings. Thomas Cole depicts a stage of life, represented as a man’s trip down a river accompanied by an angelic figure. The first two scenes—Childhood and Youth—are bright scenes of beauty, while the latter two—Manhood and Old Age—are darker and more dramatic. They offer a view of the threats that face the voyager in adulthood as well as life’s ultimate conclusion. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition will include related oil studies, prints, preparatory drawings for the prints, and a short film about Cole’s life.