**PAIR** of fine engravings, each 15 1/4" by 22 3/4", (24" by 30 1/2" as framed), from the famous series "The Voyage of Life", mid 19th century, after the series of four paintings of that title by the major American artist and founder of the Hudson River School, THOMAS COLE (1801-1848). All four images from the series are composed of imaginary scenes and are filled with allegory and symbolism. The two prints offered here are "Youth" and "Old Age" (the missing ones being "Childhood" and "Manhood"). They were engraved by artist James David Smillie, who was commissioned by the American Art Union. That organization focused on supporting and developing popular appreciation of American art. Cole created an iconic series of images that remain a cornerstone of American art history. Immensely popular at mid century, the engravings were widely distributed. From what I can gather, they were issued by several publishers around the period 1850-1860. "Youth", of the series, is explained by Sandra L. Bertman: "...here the view widens as does the voyager's experience. Now the youth grabs the tiller firmly as the angel watches from the shore. The boy's enthusiasm and energy is evident in his forward-thrusting pose and billowing clothes. In the distance, a ghostly castle hovers in the sky, a white and shimmering beacon that represents the unattainable ambitions and dreams of man. To the youth, the calm river seems to lead straight to the castle, but at the far right of the painting one can just glimpse the river as it becomes rough, choppy, and full of rocks. The journey will not be smooth or easy, but the boy does not see this Cole comments on the landscape and the youth's ambitions: "The scenery of the picture--its clear stream, its lofty trees, its towering mountains, its unbounded distance, and transparent atmosphere--figure forth the romantic beauty of youthful imaginings, when the mind elevates the Mean and Common into the Magnificent, before experience teaches what is the Real." (Earl A. Powell, Thomas Cole. Harry N. Abrams, New York,1990. p. 89). Of "Old Age", this has been written: "In the final scene, Old Age, the Voyager has navigated the Stream of Life, which has emptied into a tranquil but dark and lonely sea, lined with jagged rocks and cliffs. The boat, damaged from life's storms, reveals that time is nearly at an end for the Voyager. Only now is the Spirit Guide revealed to him, guiding him toward his final destination. Old and gray, the passenger assumes a pious pose and readies himself for his inevitable fate. A shaft of light parts the clouds, and angels descend to usher the Voyager to another life.
Condition: I believe the prints have been tightly trimmed, there being no text nor margins as is often seen. I don't believe they were originally printed this way. That notwithstanding, the condition is probably better than what might be considered "average" for surviving prints of this period. They are foxed (especially in the sky of "Youth"), there is browning, faint lines from boards meeting, and light staining, but no tears nor outrageously heavy stains. The prints might well clean up nicely in the hands of a professional paper conservator. In very original condition, as framed, they are under the original wavy period glass (glass broken out in semi circle shape in upper right of "Youth"), and without a mat. Today, obviously, this would not be considered a professional framing method. The frames are of the 19th century and they show their age, with faded gilt and missing beading. The pair came from a recently liquidated storage locker containing the long-stored belongings of American artist Rachel Farrington. Note the reverse labels on the boards from Black, Gramm and Co., one of the larger picture framers in New York at that time (including Beekman Street and Williams Street addresses in Manhattan, near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York City Hall). **MORE PHOTOS UPON REQUEST**; Ruby allows only nine images per listing.
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