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Stevenson Memorial
1903
oil
207.2 x 52.6 cm
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly



Thayer's most enigmatic painting is his tribute to the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894). The author's name and coat of arms originally appeared across the top, but Thayer later painted them out, leaving only the mysterious word VAEA, which refers to the mountain in Samoa where Stevenson was buried. The bright, winged figure seated against a dark background evokes angelic goodness surrounded by the shadows of evil and death, dualities that Stevenson explored in his writing.