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1954 Robert Vickrey Born: New York, New York 1926 Died: Naples, Florida 2011 egg tempera on paperboard 34 1/4 x 58 1/4 in. (87.0 x 148.0 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation 1986.6.82 Not currently on view

Luce Center Quote

"In our polluted and toxic environment, the nuns and their attire represent remnants of an immaculate chastity---they are just too fragile and beautiful to exist in this decaying world." Vickrey, quoted in Miller, Robert Vickrey's Nun Paintings: Creatures of the Spirit, 2002

Exhibition Label

During the 1950s, Robert Vickrey painted, made experimental films, and traveled around the world doing sketches for Time magazine. Throughout his work he assumed the perspective of the detached observer but said that to the careful viewer his paintings “always [convey] a sense of danger.” This is certainly true of Fear, in which Vickrey employed the shimmering medium of egg tempera for an image of a nun fleeing what he described as “the rubble and erosion of contemporary civilization.”

Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection, 2014

Luce Center Label

In 1948, Robert Vickrey found a photograph of two nuns from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. He was fascinated by the image and created many paintings of nuns in austere and often sinister surroundings. In Fear, Vickrey used egg tempera paint to create a detailed view of a barren landscape, in which a nun appears to be running in distress. He once claimed that his paintings did not tell stories, but this image suggests that the nun, symbolizing purity and Christian charity, is fleeing from what Vickrey described as "the rubble and erosion of contemporary civilization." (Mecklenburg, Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection, 1998)


Figure female - full length

Landscape - building

Landscape - plain

Occupation - religion - nun

State of being - emotion - fear


paint - tempera