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Charles Walter Stetson
Magnolia
1895
oil
24 1/4 x 20 1/4 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum



Torn between a religious sensibility and a profound sensuality, Stetson's unresolved anxieties led him to create some of the most startling images of the Gilded Age. Here a single magnolia blossom hovers in dark space like a brilliant nebula exploding in the night sky. A simple image takes on a larger emblematic meaning, as Stetson moves beyond traditional academic still life and narrative to make a modern picture expressive of intense inner emotion.