Media - 1986.6.82 - SAAM-1986.6.82_2 - 135125
Copied Robert Vickrey, Fear, 1954, egg tempera on paperboard, 34 1458 14 in. (87.0148.0 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.82

Artwork Details

Not on view
34 1458 14 in. (87.0148.0 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation
Mediums Description
egg tempera on paperboard
  • Landscape — building
  • Landscape — plain
  • Figure female — full length
  • State of being — emotion — fear
  • Occupation — religion — nun
Object Number

Artwork Description

During the 1950s, Robert Vickrey painted, made experimental films, and traveled around the world doing sketches for Time magazine. Throughout his work he assumed the perspective of the detached observer but said that to the careful viewer his paintings “always [convey] a sense of danger.” This is certainly true of Fear, in which Vickrey employed the shimmering medium of egg tempera for an image of a nun fleeing what he described as “the rubble and erosion of contemporary civilization.”

Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection, 2014

Luce Center Label

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)

Luce Object Quote

"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


Media - 1986.6.100 - SAAM-1986.6.100_2 - 135134
Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Sara Roby Foundation Collection
October 20, 2018November 28, 2018
This exhibition presents some of the most treasured paintings and sculpture from SAAM’s permanent collection, including artworks by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, George Tooker, among others.