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The Mystery of Life

modeled 1895-1897 George Grey Barnard Born: Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 1863 Died: New York, New York 1938 marble relief 21 1/4 x 14 1/8 x 9 1/2 in. (54.0 x 35.8 x 24.1 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly 1929.8.394 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 19B

Luce Center Label

The Mystery of Life is one of several allegorical images of Life and Death from an urn that George Grey Barnard created to hold the ashes of the Metropolitan Opera conductor Anton Seidl. The sculptor conceived of a work that would represent both life and death. The veiled figure of Death holds the egg or embryo of life, and underneath is a poppy that refers to sleep and a lily that symbolizes resurrection. Barnard’s description of the piece reflects late nineteenth-century attitudes about the “nature” of men and women. The man, who struggles to provide for his family, resists death. The woman, however, through her role as a mother, surrenders to the inevitable as a natural part of the cycle of life.


Allegory - death

Allegory - life

Figure group - nude


stone - marble