Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life series is a visual depiction of the journey human life takes from childhood to old age, with each stage represented by a painting. The Old Age painting in the series, created in 1842, portrays an allegory of physical aging and declining mental faculties. While Cole’s earlier works were complex, this painting uses a simpler style but still packs a lot of meaning into its composition.
In the Old Age segment, the voyager travels down the River of Life accompanied by their guardian angel through dark and stormy waters. This reflects how old age brings about gloominess and fear. The lush surroundings present in Childhood contrast starkly with these dark waters. The boisterous river from Youth recedes into insignificance; it has become difficult to navigate for someone whose physical capabilities have been exhausted.
The meticulous background on each segment adds depth to the artwork’s meaning by showing how life changes alongside physical aging. This highlights that everything around us changes along with our lives. Thomas Cole’s depiction shows that as we enter old age, our health declines rapidly along with any residual happiness we may have had before.