May Flowers

Is this child looking at the cluster of flowers, or is she admiring the Venetian glass vase in which they rest? The vessel is identifiable as Murano glass by its hot-worked stem in the form of a sea serpent. While she may be charmed by the smiling monster, informed viewers would understand that its value lies in its workmanship and overseas origins. Here painter Louise Cox, in a nod to the vanitas still life tradition, may be signaling that this vase (and her painting) will outlast the beauty of the flowers and that of the young girl. “[Glass] neither rusts nor decays,” observed critic and collector James Jackson Jarves. Moths can not consume it, nor time alter its shape or dim its beauty. It is always the same frolicsome, fascinating, suggestive, imperishable object.”

Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano, 2021.

This little girl, whose name was Mary, sits with her hands and knee pressed against the pillow, admiring the flowers. The loose brushwork and the informal pose enhance the casual feel of the portrait. Louise Cox was known for her images of children and her ability to work with young, fidgety sitters. In a letter to the buyer of this painting, Cox wrote, I think the name May Flowers’ would suit the little picture.”

May Flowers
24 1820 18 in. (61.251.0 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of William T. Evans

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Object – flower
  • Object – other – linens
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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