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Ideal Figures

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Painting: Stephenson Memorial Thayer's angels are his best-known paintings. An art critic mused: "They come near to us, there is a lovely hint of the human and intimate in them, yet they are not of the earth; they have a mystic air, and a glance that fathoms the beyond." Thayer did not try to explain these paintings, saying only that the wings were meant to lift the figure out of the commonplace. He employed unusual means to bring expressive power to these figures: he manipulated the paint with brooms, scrapers, his fingers, and even the paint tube.

For Thayer, these winged figures had personal meaning. The first angel was a portrait of his daughter Mary and was painted, possibly as a symbol of hope, at the time of his first wife's mental illness. His later winged figures become figures hovering over a landscape, perhaps protecting the forests of Mount Monadnock he so loved.

To Paintings: Ideal Figures



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

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