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The Voyage of Life, Manhood, Oil by Thomas Cole (1801-1848, United Kingdom)

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The Voyage of Life, Manhood

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The Voyage of Life series, painted by Thomas Cole 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 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 the next painting, 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 warm sunlight of youth has been clouded over with dark and stormy skies and torrential rains. The trees have become wind-beaten, gnarled, leafless trunks. The fresh grass is gone, replaced by hard and unforgiving rock. In the boat, the man no longer displays confidence or even control. The angel appears high in the sky, still watching over the man, who does not see the angel. Man must rely on his faith that the angel is there to help him. Cole states, “Trouble is characteristic of the period of Manhood. In childhood, there is no carking care: in youth, no despairing thought. It is only when experience has taught us the realities of the world, that we lift from our eyes the golden veil of early life; that we feel deep and abiding sorrow: and in the Picture, the gloomy, eclipse-like tone, the conflicting elements, the trees riven by tempest, are the allegory; and the Ocean, dimly seen, figures the end of life, which the Voyager is now approaching.“ Within the painting Manhood there is a strong emphasis on the diagonal: in the rocks which jut up, steep and forbidding, and the river which sweeps downward, threatening to carry anything in or on it over the precipitous drop to the twisting and foaming rapids in the mid-ground. The extreme narrowness of the passage between the two rock face heightens the tension as the viewer tries to determine whether or not a small craft could navigate these tumultuous waters. In addition, evil spirits stare down from the dark clouds above.
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Thomas Cole

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