Hermia and Helena

Media - 1990.21 - SAAM-1990.21_1 - 67566
Copied Washington Allston, Hermia and Helena, before 1818, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program and made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, the Catherine Walden Myer Fund, and the National Institute, 1990.21
Free to use

Artwork Details

Title
Hermia and Helena
Date
before 1818
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
30 3825 14 in. (77.264.2 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program and made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, the Catherine Walden Myer Fund, and the National Institute
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
Classifications
Keywords
  • Literature — Shakespeare — Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Landscape — waterfall
  • Portrait female — Hermia
  • Portrait female — Helena
  • Recreation — leisure — reading
  • Figure group — female
Object Number
1990.21

Artwork Description

Washington Allston said that this painting represented "the singleness and unity of friendship." He posed the two women so that they suggest one figure, and they read from a shared book. In Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, Helena eloquently describes her friendship with Hermia in the third act: "So we grew together, / Like to a double cherry . . . / Two lovely berries moulded on one stem."

Like many Americans of his time, Allston was educated in the classics. He painted Hermia and Helena in England when the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was reviving Shakespeare's plays. A friend of Allston's, Coleridge felt that Shakespeare expressed human sentiment perfectly.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Videos