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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 20th century: Fear

Robert Vickrey
egg tempera on paperboard
34 1/4 x 58 1/4 in. (87.0 x 148.0 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation
"In our polluted and toxic environment, the nuns and their attire represent remnants of an immaculate chastity---they are just too fragile and beautiful to exist in this decaying world." Vickrey, quoted in Miller, Robert Vickrey's Nun Paintings: Creatures of the Spirit, 2002

In 1948, Robert Vickrey found a photograph of two nuns from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. He was fascinated by the image and created many paintings of nuns in austere and often sinister surroundings. In Fear, Vickrey used egg tempera paint to create a detailed view of a barren landscape, in which a nun appears to be running in distress. He once claimed that his paintings did not tell stories, but this image suggests that the nun, symbolizing purity and Christian charity, is fleeing from what Vickrey described as "the rubble and erosion of contemporary civilization." (Mecklenburg, Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection, 1998)

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