Comparing this early preliminary oil sketch with the finished work demonstrates how Cole experimented with different ideas for composition, figure placement, and tonal contrasts. The sketch dates from the time when Cole still conceived of the river flowing in the same direction from canvas to canvas, an idea he subsequently abandoned when he realized that given the space in Ward's gallery, the works would be displayed in pairs on opposite walls. Other differences in the oil study include a more distanced spatial relationship of the Guardian Spirit to the Voyager, and a more ominous sky, with only a small opening for the soul's ascension to heaven.
1. Thomas Cole, <cite>Study for the Voyage of Life: Old Age</cite>, oil on wooden panel, c. 1837-39, 12 x 13 11/16 in. Albany Institute of History and Art.
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2. Thomas Cole, <cite>The Voyage of Life: Old Age (First Set)</cite>, oil on canvas, 1840, 51 ¾ x 78 ¼ in. Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY, 55.108.