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John La Farge
Wreath of Flowers
1866
oil
24 1/8 x 13 1/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly



According to one critic, “However beautiful to the eye, La Farge's subjects present a still more subtle beauty to the mind, which finds in it a relationship of spirit as well as matter.” Here, the Greek inscription—“As summer was just beginning”—in the company of a wreath suggests that this weathered stucco wall bears a complex symbolic message. In ancient Greece, hopeful suitors posted wreaths on walls as tokens of their affection. Estranged from his wife at the time, La Farge may have been drawn to the phrase's hopeful connotations. The wreath, however, also suggests the funerary, marking life's fragility during a period in which La Farge battled serious illness and mourned the death of his infant son.