Stevenson Memorial

Media - 1929.6.127 - SAAM-1929.6.127_1 - 518
Copied Abbott Handerson Thayer, Stevenson Memorial, 1903, oil on canvas, 81 5860 18 in. (207.2152.6 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.6.127
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Artwork Details

Stevenson Memorial
81 5860 18 in. (207.2152.6 cm)
lower right in oil: c (copyright symbol) 1903/Abbott H. Thayer lower right in oil: VAEA upper left to upper right: ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON stretcher upper left in acrylic: 29.6.127
Credit Line
Gift of John Gellatly
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Figure female
  • Fantasy — winged being
  • Landscape — mountain — Vaea
  • Monument — memorial — Stevenson
Object Number

Artwork Description

Apart from the title, our only clue to the subject of this work is the inscription "VAEA," the name of the mountain in Samoa where Robert Louis Stevenson is buried. Stevenson's poetic tales of men at war with themselves had dazzled Abbott Handerson Thayer, whose own life was marked by exaltation and despair. And, like the Scotsman's most memorable characters, the Stevenson Memorial carries a hidden story.

Underneath this image is an earlier composition, a portrait of Thayer's three children that he had painted as a tribute to Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. But Thayer painted over this with the figure of an angel to convey a more encompassing, personal grief. The artist's wife had died in 1891, and his many paintings of angels created thereafter suggest the mysteries of life, death, and the fate of the spirit.

The luminous angel shown here, seated at Stevenson's tomb, is an emblem of memory, a light against oblivion. Just as Thayer's love for his wife survived in the image of their children, Stevenson's fame would live on in his works.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006