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Compositional Study for "The Voyage of Life: Manhood"

On view

Compositional Study for "The Voyage of Life: Manhood"

Artist: Thomas Cole (American, born England, 1801 - 1848)

Date: 1839-1840
Medium: Oil and graphite on wood
Framed: 17 1/2 x 23 1/4 x 1in. (44.5 x 59.1 x 2.5cm)
Overall: 11 x 16 3/4in. (27.9 x 42.5cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 64.164
Label Text
This oil sketch is one of three similarly-sized studies Cole painted for the third picture of "The Voyage of Life" series. Small, quickly-executed works like this have been made by artists throughout history to experiment with pictorial ideas intended for larger, finished compositions. Such studies typically were never intended for public display. Cole retained this sketch throughout his lifetime. It was purchased by the Museum shortly after the contents of his Catskill, N.Y. home were dispersed in a public auction held in the fall of 1964.

The sketch depicts a red-robed voyager in the left foreground raising his arms in a gesture of supplication as the small boat he is seated in is swept inexorably towards the cataract at the right. In the final, large version of this scene (at MWP), Cole moved the large rock that is in the center of the sketch further to the right. This change enabled him to depict a thundering cascade in the center of the design that flows away from the viewer into a distant expanse of gray ocean, which is lit by a vivid pink and yellow sky.

The diagonal graphite line faintly visible in the upper left corner of the oil sketch may be part of a network of corner-to-corner, ruled lines, now largely obscured with paint, that Cole drew on the wooden panel to facilitate the transfer of his design from an earlier painting or drawing. Artists typically use a checkerboard pattern of transfer lines for this purpose. What this visible diagonal line suggests is that Cole used an alternative transfer method favored by the great 17th-century French landscape painter, Claude Lorrain (ca. 1600-82), whose art Cole greatly admired. An example of Claude's use of this technique can be seen on a drawing in the "Claude Album" at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

Paul D. Schweizer
August 2012
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