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Chrysler Becomes Thomas Cole Central

"Voyage of Life" on view with Cole works from the Chrysler colllection

NORFOLK, VA – (October 20, 2014) – It's the story of Everyman, beautifully told by one of the founding fathers of American art. The Chrysler Museum of Art presents Thomas Cole's Voyage of Life, a special exhibition of some of the finest—and largest—works by our country's greatest landscape painter. This show will be on view from October 21, 2014 through January 18, 2015. Admission is free.

The centerpiece of this exhibition is the iconic series The Voyage of Life (1839–40), the most famous and beloved work of landscape master Thomas Cole (1801–1848). Spanning four monumental canvases, Voyage of Life takes viewers on a journey through Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age, presenting each stage as the progress of an everyday voyager along a grand but treacherous river. These masterpieces from the collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art in Utica, N.Y., are rarely loaned to other museums, and they embark on this historic tour together with a choice group of seldom-exhibited preliminary studies and early prints. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

"The Voyage of Life completes a monumental year in the history of the Chrysler," says Erik Neil, who becomes the Museum's Director in October. "In May, Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck helped us reopen our expanded and renovated building with a splash. Now this exhibition of masterworks by Thomas Cole reiterates our commitment to bringing art of great historical importance and the highest quality to our community."

Voyage of Life is the finest and most celebrated example of what Cole called a "higher style of landscape," through which he aimed to illustrate moral messages with the beauty of nature. The artist began his career with illustrations of the forests, rivers, and mountains of Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. Based on these works, Cole is remembered as the inventor of the Hudson River School of landscape painting and one of the first artists to define a distinctly American style of art. Cole, however, always aspired to be more than "a mere leaf painter." Thus, for this monumental series, he combined his expertise in landscape painting with an epic story of faith and perseverance, celebrating nature as a source of religious and poetic inspiration.

This series was widely admired, and reproductions of it decorated parlors throughout America in the mid- and late-1800s. The Chrysler's exhibition traces not only the creation of the Voyage of Life, but also the spread of its popularity thanks to the new technologies of printmaking and photography. In 1842 Cole added to its fame by painting a second version of the series, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity," says Alex Mann, the Chrysler's Brock Curator of American Art. "Works of this size and importance almost never leave their home museums, and we are so lucky to bring Thomas Cole's Voyage of Life to Norfolk."

To enhance the exhibition, the Chrysler will hang the paintings opposite its own Thomas Cole masterpiece, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds (1833–34). While works in Voyage of Life are each over seven feet wide framed, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds is the largest single canvas that Cole ever painted, covering almost 16 horizontal feet of wall space.

"The scale of these works is breathtaking," says Mann. "Cole wanted his audiences to lose themselves in these stories. The paintings are so big that you have to move around to see all of their details."

This exhibition will be on view in other American cities, but The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds is unlikely ever to travel, due to its size and fragility, Mann noted. The painting once belonged to the Boston Athenaeum, but after being rolled up in storage for generations, it was purchased by Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. in 1980 and immediately given to the Chrysler Museum. Scholars have written about similarities between this work and Voyage of Life, but the paintings have never before been exhibited collectively. This makes the Norfolk exhibition a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these Cole masterworks together.

"We alone are uniting an artist's early masterpiece with his signature achievement," says Mann. "In one, we see youthful ambition and potential. On the opposite wall, we have mature talent and professional triumph."

Thomas Cole's Voyage of Life will be on view in the Penny and Peter Meredith Gallery, a newly expanded and refurbished space in the heart of the Museum's Brock Wing of American Art. The show will include an interactive touch-screen kiosk for deeper exploration of Cole's life and career, and The Museum Shop will offer a beautifully illustrated, 80-page exhibition catalogue for sale ($24.99).

About the Chrysler Museum of Art
The recently expanded Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America's most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler's collection was given to the Museum by Walter Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. In the years since Chrysler's death in 1988, the Museum has dramatically expanded its collection and extended its ties with the Norfolk community. The Museum now has rapidly growing collections, especially of contemporary glass and 21st-century works.

In 2011, the Chrysler opened a full-service glass studio to tie with a 560-pound capacity glass furnace, a full hot shop, a flameworking studio, nine annealing ovens, and a coldworking shop. In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art also administers two historic houses in downtown Norfolk: the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor House.

The Chrysler Museum of Art, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, and its Perry Glass Studio at 745 Duke St., are open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. The Historic Houses on East Freemason Street are open weekends.

General admission is free at all venues.


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