ThoThomas Cole is considered to be the key founding figure of the Hudson River School of American landscape artists. Born in Lancashire in 1801, Thomas Cole lived in England until his family sailed to Philadelphia in 1818. Having acquired the fundamentals of painting in 1820, he began his tours of the Hudson River region in the mid-1820’s and it was from this time on that his talents as a romantic landscape painter flourished. Thomas Cole returned to England in 1829 and travelled around Europe until 1832. It was around this time that he first conceived the idea of creating cycles of paintings with themes based on the rise and fall of civilisations; an idea which culminated in his series entitled The Course of Empire (1833-36). Cole subsequently applied this concept to the mutability of human life in The Voyage of Life.
Begun in 1839 and completed in 1840, The Voyage of Life is considered by many to be Thomas Cole’s most important series of paintings. The series consists of four allegorical paintings depicting Childhood, Youth, Manhood and Old Age. These images are perceived as some of the nearest equivalents to the art of John Martin and J.M.W.Turner to be created in America during the Romantic period.
Upon Thomas Cole’s death in 1848 the Art Union voted to purchase the original series of The Voyage of Life for two thousand dollars.