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Educational Insights

Speaking of Pictures

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane by John Quidor

To a trained eye, almost every artwork contains clues that reveal a story. An artist can convey subtle meaning through symbols or composition. Sometimes the painter simply illustrates a well-known narrative, as is the case here. Roll over various parts of this artwork to read excerpts from a famous Halloween tale.


John Quidor, The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, 1858, oil, 26 7/8 x 33 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible in part by the Catherine Walden Myer Endowment, the Julia D. Strong Endowment, and the Director's Discretionary Fund, 1994.120

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Reading the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a popular way to inaugurate the Halloween season—so why not explore the Smithsonian American Art Museum's painting on the same subject?

In Washington Irving's 1819 story, the hapless and awkward teacher Ichabod Crane covets the rich Van Tassel farm and adores pretty Katrina Van Tassel. His rival, Bram Bones, also courts the lovely girl. Disguised as the Headless Horseman in a huge cape, Bones frightens Ichabod in the midnight forest and launches what appears to be his head—a pumpkin—at Ichabod. The poor teacher was never seen again in the village of Sleepy Hollow.

John Quidor had a knack for making Irving's yarns come alive in pictures. Here he caught Ichabod's terror at the height of the drama. Roll over the image and read related excerpts from the story.

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