Munson Williams Proctor Institute

Utica, NY



The Voyage of Life: A Chronology

by Dr. Paul D. Schweizer


February 9, 1844: In a long letter to Wadsworth, Cole made reference to the favorable reviews that his exhibition had received, while attributing its 'ill success" to the "inclemency and changeableness of the weather." Referring to the letter he received from Smith on January 29, 1844, he noted to Wadsworth that it would give him great pleasure to personally show him his pictures, "particularly my Voyage of Life," but that he did not want to part with the replica set at this time because he was thinking of sending it back to Europe.

The other reason Cole did not want to sell the pictures was because they would then remain in the United States, and as he noted in his December 14, 1844 letter to Crawford, he did not want "to do anything that could be construed as an injury to the [Ward] family . . . who so generously gave me a commission for the first series."

February 12, 1844: In a letter to Maria, Cole said: "I wrote to Mr. Wadsworth the other day and hope that something will grow out of our correspondence in the way of commissions for a series of pictures. I do not intend to part with The Voyage of Life."

February 12, 1844: Writing from Catskill, Maria admonished Cole to make sure that if he signed a contract for a commission that it include a clause allowing him to exhibit the work if he wished.

February 19, 1844: The letter that Maria wrote to Cole on this date echoes the complaint Cole made before February 12, 1844, to Wadsworth about the failure of his exhibition. She noted: "You may depend upon it--the weather will be fine as soon as your exhibition closes."

Also on this date Mason wrote to Cole complaining that The Voyage of Life could be more easily hung in a domestic setting if the pictures were smaller.

February 28, 1844: With his Academy exhibition about to close, Cole wrote to his wife that he was not quite sure whether he should ship his pictures back to Catskill.

March 2, 1844: According to Cole's account book, the last admission fees for his exhibition were collected this Saturday. In balancing its expenses against the revenue it generated, Cole realized a loss of $137.91. This deficit could have been even greater if the Academy had not waived the rental fee for the use of its gallery.

March 30, 1844: Following the financial failure of his Academy exhibition, Cole received an inquiry from Cephas G, Childs of the Committee of Arrangement of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, asking at what price he would loan The Voyage of Life for an exhibition in Philadelphia.

April 2, 1844: Cole replied to Childs that he would be willing to rent the series to the Pennsylvania Academy for two hundred dollars for the first month of an exhibition and for fifty dollars per month thereafter. He added in a reversal of the position he expressed around February 12, 1844, that if anyone wished to purchase the pictures that their price including frames was five thousand dollars--the same amount Samuel Ward, Sr., paid for the original set.

April 8, 1844: It would appear that on this date Childs wrote to Cole agreeing to the terms he proposed regarding the loan of The Voyage of Life to the Pennsylvania Academy, After receiving Childs' letter. Cole ordered that two boxes containing the series (which were probably in New York City) and several descriptive catalogues be sent to Philadelphia. Childs' letter and the reply that Cole penned "immediately on the receipt of yours" are lost, but their contents can be gleaned from the letter Cole wrote to Childs four days later.

April 12, 1844: Fearful that his April 8, 1844 letter might have miscarried, Cole again wrote to Childs with a suggestion on how the series should be installed. "It would not be well to hang the pictures so high that the horizon line in any of them should be above the eye of the spectator."

April 29, 1844: On this date Pratt sent Cole twenty-five dollars as his share of the receipts from the Boston exhibition.

May 1, 1844: In Philadelphia, the exhibition catalogue printed by the Academy carried this publication date. As in Boston, The Voyage of Life was listed at the beginning along with Cole's descriptions.

May 2, 1844: Cole wrote to Pratt in Boston acknowledging receipt of the twenty-five dollars he sent him on April 29, 1844. In a tone decidedly different from the comments he wrote to Greene on November 23, 1843, regarding the Boston show, Cole noted to Pratt: "I wish you to express to your Association that I consider what they have done as more than I had any reason to expect since the pictures had contributed so little to the funds of the Association when so much was hoped for."

May 27, 1844: Cole's friend in London, the painter Samuel J. Ainsley, wrote to him expressing hope that the Boston exhibition was a success.

May 31, 1844: Cole's friend, Cornelius Ver Bryck, died in Brooklyn with Cole at his bedside. Also, in Philadelphia, the exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts containing Cole's Voyage of Life may have closed on this day.

Late Spring or Early Summer 1844: Following the closing of the Philadelphia show, Cole considered exhibiting The Voyage of Life in Baltimore. Before committing himself to this idea, however, he drafted a letter to Wadsworth asking if he would be interested in having the use of the series for a "profitable" exhibition at the new Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, which would officially open on July 31, 1844.

June 14, 1844: Cole completed and dated a draft of his long poem "The Voyage of Life."

In 1853, Noble suggested that this poem was written by Cole in response to the death of Ver Bryck on May 31, 1844.

July 9, 1844: In his private journal Cole recorded the disappointment he still felt over the failure of his exhibition in New York City the previous winter.

Fall 1844: Having recently returned from Rome to marry Sam Ward's sister, Thomas Crawford inevitably became interested in the matter of Cole's strained relationship with the Ward family, especially since all three of the parties involved were either related to or friends of George Washington Greene, who with Crawford watched Cole paint the replica set of The Voyage of Life in Rome during the winter of 1841-1842. At some point around this time, Crawford wrote to Cole asking for an explanation of the entire matter.

December 14, 1844: In reply to Crawford's request, Cole sent him a long and detailed letter giving "some of the particulars relating to [the] misunderstanding that seems to exist between Mr. Ward's family and myself in relation to the pictures of The Voyage of Life." After recounting the difficulties he had with Huggins following Samuel Ward, Sr.'s death, the various proposals he made when asked if he would release the Estate from the commission, and the matter of what he regarded as his right to exhibit the pictures before turning them over to the Ward family, Cole wrote that he believed his actions had been justified and honorable and "that the friendship of Mr. Ward's family has been lost to me is a circumstance that I sincerely regret though I cannot well account for!"

On the issue of the repainting of The Voyage of Life in Rome, Cole bluntly stated:

I believe I had a perfect right to do so unless there had been an express stipulation in my agreement to the contrary. If Mr. Ward had been living and I had been desirous to paint the subject again . . . I should certainly have asked his consent out of courtesy. But all debts of courtesy to Mr. Huggins had been canceled and I should not have asked his consent. That they were so you may imagine from what I have stated, but there is something beyond this; he has evinced a most unfriendly feeling toward me. He even required the pictures to be measured in the express hope of finding them too small to fulfill [the] agreement and told my friend who called on him for one of the installments that if the law had not compelled him he would not have paid me for the pictures.

Cole also noted in his letter to Crawford that he had never intended to bring the replica set to the United States; however, circumstances forced him to do so, and although other reasons delayed him from sending them back overseas, it was still his intention to do so in the hope of finding a buyer for them there.

February 15, 1845: From Rome on this date, Greene wrote to Cole inquiring about the price of his version of The Voyage of Life because he had a friend who seemed interested in purchasing them. He also noted that he had spoken to Crawford about the possibility of the Wards selling their set.

July 25, 1845: Cole loaned his set of The Voyage of Life to an exhibition organized by the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts that opened on this date in new quarters in John Vanderlyn's Rotunda in City Hall Park in lower Manhattan.

December 28, 1845: In a letter to Pratt in Boston, Cole announced that he was about to begin a new series "rather more extensive than that of The Voyage of Life." This is a reference to Cole's final major series entitled The Cross and The World, the subject of which builds upon ideas contained in The Voyage of Life.

1846: Throughout the major part of this year. Cole's version of The Voyage of Life was on view at the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts. From the time the pictures were first hung around July 25, 1845, until the end of 1846, approximately three thousand visitors signed the Gallery's guest register.

December 1846?: Around this time Cole sold the replica set of The Voyage of Life to the ironmaster and art collector George K. Shoenberger of Cincinnati, whose residence was at 111 Broadway.

May 10, 1847: Having arrived in Cincinnati some three weeks earlier, Cole's pupil, Benjamin McConkey, noted to Cole that "Shoenberger's gallery is all that you could desire. I never saw your pictures look so well both by day and night. He is delighted with them--taking great pleasure in showing them [and] has no other pictures of consequence."

August 21, 1847: McConkey wrote to Cole about the possibility of making engravings after The Voyage of Life.

February 11, 1848: Cole died unexpectedly at his home in Catskill.

February 12, 1848: At some point after the replica set of The Voyage of Life was sold to Shoenberger, the Ward family decided to loan their version to the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts. Exactly when this took place is not known, but in a letter written by "S. H." on this date and published in the New-York Daily Tribune on February 21, 1848, it was noted that both the Ward version of The Voyage of Life and his earlier Course of Empire were on exhibit at the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts. In the catalogue published by the Gallery of Fine Arts in 1848, Cole's original version of the paintings was listed with the following credit line: "A series of allegorical pictures. Loaned by the estate of the late Samuel Ward."

February 24, 1848: In a letter to the painter Jasper F. Cropsey that touched upon the matter of prints after Cole's pictures, the painter John M. Falconer noted: "I think one of Cole's series might be got up successfully by you and as regards profit too" (Newington-Cropsey Foundation).

March 27, 1848: A memorial exhibition of eighty-three works by Cole, including the original version of The Voyage of Life, opened at the gallery of the American Art-Union .

Around April 3 to at least November 13, 1848: Shoenberger loaned his set of The Voyage of Life to an exhibition held in Cincinnati by the Western Art Union.

Mid-May 1848: Around this time Cole's memorial exhibition in New York City closed.

June 1, 1848: The Art-Union voted to purchase the Ward version of The Voyage of Life for two thousand dollars with the intention that all four pictures be distributed as one prize in that year's lottery, despite its usual practice of only acquiring pictures by living American artists. The Art-Union also decided that in order "to take advantage of the interest attached by the public to the memory of Mr. Cole," a work of his be engraved by James Smillie for distribution in 1849 to its members.

June 19, 1848: The Art-Union decided that the picture by Cole, which had previously been selected for distribution as an engraving, be replaced by Youth and that Smillie be paid two thousand five hundred dollars for his efforts. It was also decided that "when the series of paintings by the late Thomas Cole, called The Voyage of Life is distributed, it be so distributed with the reservation of the right of this institution to engrave anyone or the whole series as the Committee may hereafter determine."

July 27, 1848: On this date the Art-Union authorized the removal of "the pictures" from its gallery to Smillie's house on 12th Street in New York City so that copies of the paintings could be made. Because Smillie was only commissioned to engrave Youth, however, it would appear that this was the only picture he copied. In his memoirs (1885), Smillie described this process: "I engraved this plate from [an] India ink drawing which I made myself from the original painting."

September 28, 1848: The Art-Union paid Smillie the first installment for commencing an engraving of Youth. These payments continued periodically until the project was completed around January 17, 1850.

December 10, 1848: As the date set by the Art-Union for the distribution of that year's prizes approached, its membership rolls swelled at an unprecedented rate because of the excitement generated by the prospect of winning The Voyage of Life. One individual who joined the Art-Union at this time was J. Taylor Brodt, the editor of the Binghamton [New York] Courier. In a bulletin published by the Art-Union at periodic intervals during 1848, Brodt's name was listed as subscriber number 10,702 for the first time in the issue published on this date .

December 22, 1848: At the annual meeting of the Art-Union on this Friday evening at the Tabernacle Building on Broadway in New York City, The Voyage of Life was awarded to Brodt.

December 23-30, 1848: According to a resolution passed by the Art-Union on December 18, 1848, the galleries remained open for a week following the annual meeting.

January 6, 1849: In an issue of The Literary World published on this date, Brodt was described as "one of a club of five who purchased a single ticket," with the pictures subsequently becoming his property alone "by lot in an arrangement among the partners."

1849: When the Transactions of The American Art-Union For the Year 1848 was issued at some point during this year, a small, unsigned etching of Youth was included as a frontispiece.

May 1849: The first proof of Smillie's large print of Youth was printed sometime this month.

May 3, 1849: It would appear that the entire series was at Smillie's studio, for the Art-Union resolved on this day that the first, third, and fourth pictures be returned to Brodt and that the painting of Youth also be returned, but only if it was no longer needed by the engraver.

June 7, 1849: The Art-Union commissioned Johann M. Enzing-Müller to make small crayon copies of Childhood, Manhood, and Old Age at a cost not to exceed $75 apiece.

July 5, 1849: At some time between May 3, 1849, and this date Brodt sold The Voyage of Life to Rev. Gorham D. Abbot of the Spingler Institute, an educational institution for young ladies at Union Square in New York City. In the resolution that was passed by the Art-Union on this date, however, the question of the ownership of the pictures as well as the matter of engravings after them appears to have caused some trouble.

Resolved. That the subject of surrendering the paintings of The Voyage of Life to the proper owner . . . together with the entire question in relation to the engraving of any one or more of the said paintings, and of the selection of the artists to perform the work, be referred to a select committee.

August 2, 1849: When the Select Committee appointed by the Art-Union at its July 5, 1849, meeting reported to the Committee of Management on this date, it noted only that an agreement with Enzing-Müller had been reached.

October 4, 1849: Whatever question the Art-Union's Select Committee had been charged to investigate regarding the matter of the delivery of The Voyage of Life was apparently resolved, for on this date it reported that all four of the paintings had been delivered to Abbot.

December 6, 1849: The Art-Union turned down a request made by Abbot regarding the lettering of Smillie's engraving. The details of this request are not mentioned in the minutes, but more than likely Abbot sought to have his name, or that of the Spingler Institute, added to Smillie's plate,

December 29, 1849: The final proof of the engraving of Youth, complete with lettering and the seal of the Art-Union, was printed. Smillie noted in his memoirs (1885) that twenty thousand impressions were subsequently made and distributed to the Art-Union's 1849 membership.

January 17, 1850: The balance due Smillie for engraving Youth was paid to him by the Art-Union.

May 23, 1850: When the Executive Committee of the Art-Union met on this date it was decided to commission Robert Hinshelwood to make etchings of Childhood, Manhood, and Old Age for inclusion in the Art-Union's bulletin.

June 26, 1850: Hinshelwood wrote to the Art-Union accepting their commission and promising to provide the first plate by the end of July.

September, October, and November 1850: Hinshelwood's etchings of Childhood, Manhood, and Old Age, were published successively in the Art-Union's monthly bulletin.

1852: Sometime during this year Rev, Jared B. Waterbury published his book, The Voyage of Life, which gave advice on how to lead a Christian life in four stages and was illustrated with small engravings by John Halpin after Cole's paintings. During this year also, the painter De Witt Clinton Boutelle completed full-sized copies of The Voyage of Life (Mr. & Mrs. Richard Manney). In 1856 Abbot explained the reason for this as well as what happened next.

In 1852 the original paintings were copied in full size, with a view of sending the whole series to Europe to be engraved in the highest style of modern art. It was: however, decided, after making some observations in London and Paris, to commit the work of engraving to our countryman, Mr. James Smillie of our city, whose success in landscape engraving had already conferred so much credit upon himself.

There is no evidence to suggest that Abbot's scheme was planned in cooperation with the American Art-Union,
and they were in no position to object, for during this year they were deeply embroiled in controversy regarding the legality of their lottery.

October 22, 1852: Whatever complaint the Art-Union might have made to Abbot about his plan to have the series engraved became moot, for on this date the New York State Court of Appeals declared the Art-Union's lottery "illegal and unconstitutional."

Looking back on the demise of this organization in 1865, Cummings wondered if its success in acquiring for distribution pictures of such importance as The Voyage of Life contributed to its downfall.

December 15-17, 1852: In its liquidation sale the Art-Union dispersed a number of items relating to The Voyage of Life. Among these was Smillie's steel plate of Youth which was acquired by Abbot.

March 1853: According to Abbot (1856), a contract was drawn up with Smillie sometime this month to begin engraving The Voyage of Life. He began this project by reworking the Youth plate recently acquired from the Art-Union sale.

April 23, 1853: The first proof of Smillie's reworked plate of Youth was printed on this date.

April 5, 1854: The first proof of Smillie's Childhood was printed on this date.

December 6, 1854: The first proof of Smillie's Manhood was printed on this date.

September 8, 1855: The first proof of Smillie's Old Age was printed on this date.

January 1, 1856: To announce the completion of Smillie's engravings, Abbot printed a brochure with this dateline, which included a brief mention of Cole's replica version of The Voyage of Life and his reasons for having the pictures engraved.

March 1856: One of the last working proofs for Smillie's Old Age was printed. The set of four engravings was probably available for sale sometime this month.

April- December, 1860: Sometime during this period Abbot republished his 1856 brochure.

Summer 1861: The Spingler Institute moved from Union Square to the Townsend mansion at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in Manhattan. Presumably, The Voyage of Life was also moved to this new location.

November- December, 1863: During this time the Townsend mansion was torn down. It is not clear what happened to Cole's pictures at this point.

June 1865: Abbot's school was reestablished in new quarters at Syndam House at Park Avenue and 38th Street.

Summer 1866: Because of his health Abbot retired, and his school was disbanded.

1867: When Henry T. Tuckerman published his Book of the Artists this year he noted that The Voyage of Life was owned by J. Taylor Johnston, a railroad executive who lived at 8 Fifth Avenue. His extensive art collection was hung in a private gallery maintained on the second floor of a stable behind his house, and was widely regarded as the best collection in Manhattan at the time. Visitors could see his pictures during the winter season on Thursday afternoons.

1868: At some point during this year Shoenberger moved into "Scarlet Oaks." the gothic revival mansion that he built in the suburb of Clifton outside Cincinnati. He installed his set of The Voyage of Life in this house.

March 1874-May 10, 1876: As first president of the newly founded Metropolitan Museum of Art, Johnston lent The Voyage of Life to the Museum for display in a series of ongoing exhibitions in its galleries at 128 West 14th Street.

November 29-December 18, 1876: Due to business reversals, Johnston had to sell a large part of his collection, including The Voyage of Life. The works to be sold were placed on view at the National Academy of Design at Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street.

December 19, 1876: On the first evening of the Johnston sale, Ward's version of The Voyage of Life was sold to an individual from the Plant family of New York City (Henry B.?) for three thousand one hundred dollars.

January 2, 1892: Shoenberger died on this date, and at some point during the next several years "Scarlet Oaks" and its contents were purchased by Ernst H. Huenefeld .

1908: During this year Huenefeld presented "Scarlet Oaks" and its contents to the Bethesda Hospital and Deaconess Association of Cincinnati. The replica set of The Voyage of Life hung in relative obscurity at "Scarlet Oaks" until it was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in 1971.

June 28, 1908: An article in the New York Times noted that Cole's Voyage of Life (the Ward version) was "recently presented to St. Luke's Hospital in New York City by a member of the Plant family. The pictures remained the property of St. Luke's Hospital until they were purchased in 1955 by the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.

September 30, 1908: James D. Smillie noted in his diary on this date that the art dealer William Macbeth questioned him concerning The Voyage of Life.

October 1916: Timothy Cole's wood engraving of Youth, was published this month as the frontispiece in Art World Magazine.

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