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Thayer's World

Painting: Brother and Sister Thayer was born into a distinguished Boston family. In the 1880s and 1890s he was a leader in the New York art world. While he carried on a lively trade in portraits, he also began to paint allegorical figures, which had gained popularity among collectors with a taste for subjects from classical antiquity and the European Renaissance.

In 1891, his first wife Kate Bloede Thayer died; her loss changed Thayer's art and his outlook on life in virtually every respect. Her family, intellectually and artistically distinguished German émigrés, had introduced Thayer to the romantic world of literature, music, and philosophy. The spiritual and idealist aspects of German philosophy, and its American counterpart in New England, transcendentalism, provided consolation. This idealism also prompted him to paint extraordinary figures that seemed to embody the perfection of beauty.

In 1901, Thayer left New York and settled in Dublin, New Hampshire, joining a colony of artists, writers, scientists, and cultural figures living at the foot of Mount Monadnock. Rejecting the commercialism and the hectic pace of urban life, he built a family compound within the Dublin colony. He married his long-time friend, Emma Beach, and with his three children, they lived and worked in a complex of studios, barns, houses, gardens, and unheated sleeping huts. During this time he turned to more contemplative and even enigmatic subjects: portraits of close friends and family, meditative views of Mount Monadnock, and a series of angels.

Pictured: Brother and Sister (Mary and Gerald Thayer), 1889, oil, 92 x 71.9 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly

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