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Art and Literature

Highlighting artists who have found inspiration in letters, "Art and Literature" encourages participants to examine and discuss images depicting the Bible, Shakespeare, opera, myths, poetry, and folklore. See beautiful reproductions and enrich your understanding of both disciplines through our expansive collection.


For example, in Hermia and Helena, Washington Allston painted two characters from Shakespeare's comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The placement and composition of the two figures tell viewers about their close friendship. Such details reveal Allston's interpretation of—and renew our appreciation of—the well-known play.


In the early nineteenth century, Washington Irving's short stories created an "instant mythology" for a young nation. John Quidor drew upon and refined this folktale in his chilling painting The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane. James Fenimore Cooper's series of "Leatherstocking Tales" featured woodsman Natty Bumppo, a prototype of the frontier character that echoed in American mythology and art. In addition, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson profoundly influenced nineteenth-century landscape artists.

At the turn of the twentieth century, artists of the Ashcan School, like writers Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, were fascinated by urban life. Other artists and writers—such as Charles Demuth and William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Koch and Alex Katz—referred to each other in print and image.


In contemporary Latino culture, the two spheres continue to overlap, as seen in Angel Rodríguez-Díaz's portrait of author Sandra Cisneros. A popular Mexican American author, Cisneros is praised for her book The House on Mango Street and her collection of poems My Wicked Ways.

See art and literature from complementary angles in this exciting House Call!

Pictured top: Washington Allston, Hermia and Helena, before 1818, oil, 30 3/8 x 25 1/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program and made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, Catherine W. Myer, the National Institute Gift

Pictured second: John Quidor, The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, 1858, oil, 26 7/8 x 33 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible in part by the Catherine Walden Myer Endowment, the Julia D. Strong Endowment, and the Director's Discretionary Fund

Pictured bottom: Angel Rodríguez-Díaz, The Protagonist of an Endless Story, 1993, oil, 72 x 57 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase in part through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquistion Program