Thomas Cole: 'The Voyage of Life' Exhibition

Thomas Cole: ‘The Voyage of Life’ Exhibition

Adam Flores | Contributing Writer

Thomas Cole, “Youth” – Photo by Adam Flores.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was an artist whose work, “The Voyage of Life” (1839-40), is considered to be one of the greatest achievements in American art. A series of four paintings, this moral allegory presents the four ages of man; childhood, youth, manhood and old age. As Cole breaks down the human aging process into four distinct stages in “The Voyage of Life” series, these symbols and ideas also appear throughout Western literature and art.

The Voyage of Life series, and other works by Cole, are currently on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art. They are on loan from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute located in Utica, N.Y.

Thomas Cole, “Manhood” – Photo by Adam Flores.

These works bring the series together for the first time in history with a cornerstone piece owned by the Chrysler Museum entitled, “The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds” (1833-34). This painting, the largest canvas work of his career, took Cole about two months to complete.

Crawford Alexander Mann III, the Brock Curator of American Art for the Chrysler Museum of Art, explained that it took two to three years of planning to bring Cole’s “The Voyage of Life” exhibit to Norfolk.

“What better way to help us understand our Thomas Cole painting [“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”] better than to bring another one of his masterpieces here to the museum? “The Voyage of Life” series of four paintings on loan to the Chrysler Museum of Art is the pinnacle of his career,” Mann said.

“The Voyage of Life” series is on a National tour for about 18 months to four major art museums before it returns to its home at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute next year. Other stops on the tour include the Saint Louis Art Museum in St. Louis, Mo. and the Dickson Gallery & Gardens in Memphis, Tenn. The Chrysler Museum of Art is the second stop on this tour.

“We feel that is the mission of the museum. We try to help people enjoy our collection as much as possible, but also to see some things they might not be able to see otherwise” Mann said.

Thomas Cole, “Old Age” – Photo by Adam Flores.

In the fifty year history of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, this is only the third time the Thomas Cole series has left Utica, N.Y. to be displayed elsewhere. While some collections travel between museums in general, some art, such as Cole’s “The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds,” will stay rooted in the Chrysler Museum of Art.

The Thomas Cole exhibit, which includes several other paintings, will be on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Gallery 211, through Jan. 18, 2015. This exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, you can visit their website at or call 757-664-6200.

Copyright © 2014 Adam Flores. All rights reserved.