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Audio Stop 801

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A young man sets out in a golden boat on a river that winds from the bottom right corner of this horizontal painting across a lush landscape and into the distance before disappearing beyond two rocky outcroppings far off to our right. Hazy in the distance, the jagged peaks of a barren red mountain rise into an almost cloudless blue sky. To our left, a semi-transparent, white palace looms above and beyond the mountain, filling most of the upper left quadrant of the composition. Hills and valleys dotted with trees and carpeted with grass ease the eye down from the mountain and palace into the foreground. A winged and haloed angel wearing a white robe stands on the bank of the river under a towering palm tree in the foreground, in the bottom right corner of the canvas. The angel has pale skin and long golden hair, and they raise their right hand, perhaps towards the palace or a young man in a boat in the river nearby. The small boat is angled away from the riverbank to our left and towards the palace. It is ornately decorated and at its bow, a winged, golden figure holds an hourglass aloft above her head. The young man has pale skin, shoulder-length brown hair, and he wears a red and gold tunic. A profusion of flowers and trees line the riverbank.

Thomas Cole

The Voyage of Life: Youth, 1842

West Building, Main Floor - Gallery 60

Thomas Cole’s renowned four-part series traces the journey of an archetypal hero along the river of life. The voyager boldly strives to reach an aerial castle, emblematic of the aspirations of youth. As the traveler approaches his goal, the ever-more-turbulent stream relentlessly carries him toward the threats of nature’s fury, evil demons, and self-doubt. Only prayer, the series suggests, can save the voyager from a dark fate. Cole’s intrepid voyager also may be read as a personification of America, itself at an adolescent stage of development. The artist may have been issuing a dire warning to those caught up in the feverish quest for Manifest Destiny—that unbridled westward expansion and industrialization would have tragic consequences for both man and nature.

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