Rab and the Girls: A Riddle in Paint



The following essay was written by Dr. Sarah Burns and included in the catalogue for the "Winslow Homer: an American Genius at the Parthenon exhibition held at The Parthenon, Nashville, Tennessee, from June 3 through September 24, 2000.


Winslow Homer's Rab and the Girls acquired its present title at some point between 1876, when it appeared as Over the Hills at the National Academy of Design, and 1879, when art critic Earl Shinn encountered the painting in the collection of Charles Stewart Smith in New York and wrote admiringly of the two "handsome girls" with their trusted attendant "Rab." It is not clear whether Homer himself changed the title, or if that was the idea of the painting's first owner This in turn raises the question of how much significance we should invest in such extraneous narrative cues, even though it is also true that in his earlier career, and even later, Homer often came up with ironic and punning names for his paintings. Without being certain of the current title's origin, what can we make of Homer's meaning via narrative prompts (literary allusions, legible symbols) woven into the composition? To what extent do all the elements of design -- form, arrangement, color, and tone -- amplify or perhaps even constitute the painting's "story"? And, with any combination of these elements, how much of a story does Rab and the Girl have to tell?[1]

From a certain angle, indeed -- or to a certain point -- the painting functions efficiently as a simple pictorial narrative. It is twilight, and the sun has just sunk behind a shadowy ridge sloping down from the upper right. On the left, a delicate lavender afterglow suffuses the sky. In the foreground stand two young women who have been walking through the lush green meadow below the hill. Although both wear nearly identical hats, made with overlapping tiers of crisp ruffles and black-bordered brims, they otherwise exhibit a calculated contrast. The woman on the left is blond and gloved. Her hair is tied back in a black bow, and she wears a dark brown jacket and skirt. Her companion has brown hair coiled above the nape of her neck, bare hands, and a light-colored outfit with reddish-brown bands of trim. The blond holds up a four-leaf clover for her friend to see; the brown-haired girl carries a spray of vivid, autumnal maple foliage. Focus of the girls' complete attention, the emerald-green clover marks the central axis of the canvas exactly, while the smoldering orange of the leaves below accentuates this dividing line. The other actor in Homer's composition is a very large mastiff directly to the blond girl's left. Fiercely alert, ears cocked forward and tail aloft, the dog presses close to the picture plane as if blocking access to the space and figures behind.

So far, the pictorial narrative is reasonably straightforward. The blond beauty in her elegant appliquéd jacket is a winner. The clover she has discovered will bring her luck and quite possibly love. In New England folklore, a young woman who ate a four-leaf clover or placed it in her shoe would discover her husband in the first unmarried man she met. Such an outcome, of course, may or may not backfire; what assurance that she would encounter a prince and not a pig herder? No such booby-traps seem to be lurking here, however. The girl on the right contemplates the lucky sprig with a pensive attitude. Those autumn leaves dangling from her hand suggest her status as a loser in life and love, destined to wither on the bough. Elements in the background also reinforce the story. On the hilltop near the upper right comer is a bare, dead sapling. On the blond's side, by contrast, a bird soars in the lavender-flushed sky. The canvas, then, appears to be split evenly down the middle, with all the luck and love on one side, and on the other all the loss and loneliness.[2]

Such a reading, however, gives us only the most deceptively simple, superficial layer of a highly ambiguous design. To grasp this we need only consider related works by Homer from the mid-1870s. In 1873, Homer produced a smaller oil, The Four Leaf Clover (1873); Detroit Institute of Arts), a bright, summer scene depicting a young girl holding a four-leaf clover as she sits in the grass bordering the ground floor of a country house.[3] Although the figure occupies the far right edge of the composition, there is little tension in the design, despite the asymmetrical play of forms.

Two years later, Homer painted the watercolor What Is It? (1875; private collection), which obviously prefigures Rab and the Girls. Against a similar landscape background but set further back in the meadow, two young women, both in light-colored costumes, interact as they do in Rab. The woman on the left flourishes her lucky clover, and the other gazes and dangles her autumn leaves. Both have wide-brimmed, feathered hats, but the woman on the left has slung hers over one arm while her friend wears the same article at a jaunty angle, plume waving against the sky. The latter also sports a darker scarf or tippet, the ends crossing over her bosom. In the watercolor, this regal figure dominates the scene, her body aligned precisely with the vertical axis that symmetrically divides the composition, As a result, the watercolor delivers a straightforward anecdote in which the upright, centered "heroine" of the scene turns to inspect her smaller, softer companion's lucky find. In Rab, by contrast, everything hinges on the fact that both the clover and the leaves are dead center, belonging to neither side. As with all of Homer's most interesting compositions, this one is a delicate balancing act, a kind of visual see-saw, in which the outcome remains uncertain.[4]

Speaking more figuratively, we may also see Rab as a pictorial roadmark of sorts, standing at a point midway between the detailed, legible narratives of Homer's earlier years and the compositional economy, abstraction, and ambiguity that increasingly distinguished his work by the late 1870s, In the 1872 illustration On the Beach - Two Are Company, Three Are None published in Harper's Weekly, Homer spelled out a story of love and jealously, winning and losing, in terms that leave little or no room for uncertainty. The well-dressed young woman in the foreground is walking over the dunes, away from the beach. She clenches a fold of her skirts in one hand and tightly grips her parasol handle with the other. Looking back over her shoulder, she gazes intently at the scene below, near the water's edge at left, where a straw-hatted man sits in a beached dinghy, looking up into the eyes of the young woman perched above him. Although the man's averted face and the girl's all-concealing hat brim prevent us from identifying them further, the manner in which their bodies lean toward each other tells the tale. Even though we do not know what led up to this moment, it is clear that the story has reached an ending: happy or unhappy as the case may be.

Promenade on the Beach, (1880; Museum of Fine Art, Springfield, Massachusetts) on the other hand, leaves everything open to speculation. In this painting, two elaborately dressed young women stroll arm in arm along the beach at sunset. Outlined against the darkly opalescent sky and blue-black water, they both gaze out to sea. Behind them, their long shadows point in the direction of a schooner sailing on the horizon. In a response to queries made by the purchaser, Springfield collector George Walter Vincent Smith, Homer refused to provide any kind of "script" for the picture. Perhaps a bit truculently, the artist wrote that the two girls "are looking at anything you wish to have them look at, but it must be something at sea and a very proper object for Girls to be interested in. The schooner is a Gloucester fisherman. Hope this makes everything clear."[5]

In Promenade on the Beach, Homer whittled his idea down to the basics of pure design. At the same time, he infused this composition with subtle suspense by the simple device of non-disclosure. It would be easy enough to produce a more straightforward painting. Homer could have revealed the object of the girls' interest, or offered clues to their circumstances or their hopes. The Japanese fan contributes an exotic note but lacks the symbolic resonance of the four-leaf clover in Rab and the Girls. Even if Homer had represented his young women deep in conversation, focused on each other, perhaps exchanging confidences, the picture would seem resolved, complete. Their concentrated attention on some invisible spectacle, however, makes Promenade on the Beach unresolvable and teasingly open-ended. Of course the "story" is no cliff-hanger, yet in its understated way it remains suspenseful.[6]

In Rab and the Girls, Homer continued to deploy readable symbols -- the lucky green clover and the dying leaves -- but incorporated them into a design that pits left side against right in a carefully calibrated play of opposites weighted so evenly that the outcome remains uncertain. In an analogous way, Rab hangs in the balance between residual old and emergent new devices, at the precise midpoint of the 1870s, an all-important decade for Homer. It was during these ten years, roughly, that he came to maturity as a strong, original painter of modern American life. By the end of the seventies, however, he had all but abandoned these subjects and stood poised to make a move into new, riskier territory.

In discussing the dynamics of Rab and the Girls, there is one more player to take into account, -- and that, of course, is the figure of the so-called "Rab," the huge, brown mastiff who looks directly out into our eyes. In Homer's oeuvre, this dog is one of a handful of creatures to engage us in this manner. For the most part, Homer's men, women, and animals do not make eye contact. There are a few notable exceptions. In The Bright Side, (1865; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco) a black army teamster thrusts his head out between tent flaps to skewer the beholder with his truculent, unflinching stare. The dark-haired girl in Shall I Tell Your Fortune! (1876; private collection) sits on the ground, one hand displaying a fan fold of playing cards as she looks boldly out. The woman in Autumn (1877; National Gallery of Art) also meets our eyes. Such figures are unusual in their forthright mode of address. Consistent with Homer's own legendary reticence and closely guarded privacy, most of the actors in his paintings and drawings hide their eyes, looking away from us and from each other. Best known, perhaps, is the fleeing canine victim in The Fox Hunt, (1893; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) who presents us with the back of his head and two erect, russet ears. Indeed, among Homer's animals, the only others to look straight out as Rab does are three cows in Milking Time (1875; Delaware Art Museum), who peer blankly through the interstices of the plank fence surrounding their pasture.

Rab the dog, however, nearly quivers with sentience; his eyes shine soulfully. His alert presence further charges the precarious equilibrium of the picture. Although the two girls disregard their animal companion, he demands our notice. Even within the picture, he attracts attention: diagonals generated by the hat brims, the tilt of the dark girl's head, and the cant of the blond girl's forearm as she holds up her lucky clover, all converge on the dog's rugged head.

Who had the inspiration to name this dog Rab! Was it Homer himself, or Charles Stewart Smith, or some chance admirer who made the connection between the painted mastiff and one of the most famous canines in nineteenth-century English literature? John Brown (1810-1882), a Scottish doctor and man of letters, published the story of "Rab and His Friends" in pamphlet form in 1858. Soon after, it was reissued in a collection of Brown's occasional papers, and went on to tremendous popular success, with numerous editions and reprints in Britain, Europe, and America. His biographer asserted that had Brown written nothing else than "this fascinating story, his name would have been immortalized."[7]

Brown's tale was a memoir of his youth and early days in medicine, when he encountered the dog, Rab, and his master, James, a hard-bitten yet simple and good-hearted peasant. James brings his wife Ailie to Brown's hospital for treatment of breast cancer, but the operation fails and she dies. Her faithful husband soon falls ill and follows her. Bereft and alone, the devoted Rab turns savage and must be destroyed. The story ends with his burial, the village children solemnly in attendance. In Brown's narrative, Rab is the personification of absolute, unquestioning loyalty, toughness, and bravery. Scarred from a hundred battles, he is a "compressed Hercules of a dog," having the "dignity and simplicity of great size." He has a "large, heavy, menacing, combative, somber, honest countenance," a "deep inevitable eye," and a look "as of thunder asleep, but ready" Uncomprehending, he watches his mistress under the knife and later steadfastly guards her deathbed while James makes preparations to take her body back to their village.[8]

Rab's behavior is fully consistent with the lore of the English mastiff. An ancient breed, mastiffs were reputed to be so gentle that children might ride on their backs, yet let any stranger threaten master or household, these dogs would attack with great ferocity. They were trusty, vigilant, and patient: "not swift, their force was within; but simple and strong, animated with hearts audacious, and blind to every danger." The mastiff's horrible face was only a mask, concealing the most faithful and loving nature.[9]

Rab's appearance in Homer's painting is significant. We cannot know, indeed, whether or not the dog was an afterthought.[10] Whatever the case, John Brown's Rab was so well-known at the time that the name acquired an indelible association with the breed. The mastiff, soulful eyes staring into ours, is at once guardian and counterfoil of the girls, who play beauties to his beast. Low, brutish, and dumb, he highlights their refinement and delicacy. At the same time, he is a strong presence, more vividly immediate than the nameless young women so oblivious to everything except that sprig of clover. Inevitably, the dog imports reference to a popular literary narrative into the picture. This once again raises the question of how the story is told, and whether design works with, against, or in spite of the presumed script.

The essence of Homer's multi-level ambiguity is that there can be no concrete answer to this question. Still, it is worth considering further the extent to which purely pictorial decisions -- questions of form, color, and design -- preoccupied the painter, who may have tacked on a few scraps of story only to draw attention to the complexity and boldness of his formal experimentations. When the painting was on view at the National Academy in 1876, the art critic for The Nation appreciated the "uncontaminated cleanliness" and "moral freshness" of "wholesome maidenhood" in Homer's picture. Yet the character of the design was so powerful that it threatened to overwhelm the subject altogether: "His breadth of view becomes breadth of flatness; and the present picture, highly characteristic of a large class of Mr. Homer's work, suggests that if he could represent his hill on a Japanese box with two lacquers, upon which the women should be inlaid, their dresses corresponding in value with one of the colors, and their heads just cutting across the hypotenuse, his secret ideal would be satisfied."[11]

Indeed, as the observation about Japanese lacquer suggests, Homer's composition is at bottom schematic in the extreme, relying on spatial compression, abstract geometrical relations and carefully calibrated patterns of hue and value. The layout is governed by triangulations: the slant (or hypotenuse) of the ridge behind; the three-point configuration set up by the four-leaf clover and the girls' gazing eyes; and the right triangle of which the hypotenuse is the line from the lucky clover to the space between Rab's glowing eyes. The girls are solidly painted yet convey the effect of two silhouettes, a dark and a light, against a band of green and a wedge of brown. In addition, the painting furnishes a textbook example of Homer's systematic use of what Nicolai Cikovsky has dubbed interchangeable parts, suggesting an industrial approach to design commensurate with the artist's early training in the world of commercial illustration. It is almost as if Homer selected elements from various bins and tried them out in various combinations, and for various reasons.[12] The young woman in Autumn and the adolescent boy in Gathering Autumn Leaves (1877; Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum) dangle the same branch of orange-red maple leaves in the same manner as the girl in Rab. The figure in Autumn also wears the same brown velvet jacket with the distinctive gold braid appliqué on the sleeves, button placket, and shoulder seams. The same hat appears in The Red Schoolhouse (1873; National Gallery of Art).

The light-colored bodice worn by the leaf carrier reappears more frequently elsewhere. In this garment, the collar, button placket, and cuffs are made of material in a contrasting color; the same is used to cap the sleeves. It is worn by the model in the watercolors Woman Peeling a Lemon (1876; Stcrling and Francine Clark Art Institute) and Backgammon (1877; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco). The girl in Butterflies (1878; New Britain Museum of American Art) also wears it. In each of these, the bodice remains white, but the trim color varies; it is a dusty terra-cotta in Lemon, delicate blue-gray in Backgammon, and solid black in The Butterfly Girl. Most surprisingly, it is probably also the garment worn by the young woman crossing the bridge in The Old Mill (until recently known as The Morning Bell (1873, Yale University Art Gallery). Here, however, it is a vivid, saturated red, trimmed in a complementary bottle-green.[13]

Such appearances and reappearances strongly suggest that Homer owned this bodice (as well as the velvet jacket and the ruffled, conical hat) as one of a collection of "props" used on various models over the span of several years. It is unlikely that he had a set of them with trim in different colors. Rather, the costume itself was like a blank canvas on which the painter could try out selected color combinations in indoor and outdoor light, at various times of day. Indeed, it seems like a kind of artistic shell game: which one is the real bodice, in its true colors? [14]

We can get a little closer to the painter's game by comparing the bodices in Woman Peeling a Lemon and Rab and the Girls. Whether or not this was the "true" bodice is immaterial. What we see is surely the same garment: white with reddish trim, in both. However, they are strikingly different visually, since the bodice in Lemon is creamy white under an even indoor light, and as noted, the trim is a dusty terra-cotta of medium value. When we compare the colors of the same top in Rab and the Girls, Homer's interest is revealed. Here, this garment is a dull, pallid bluish-gray and the trim a muddy brownish-red: transformations effected by dim outdoor light, at the twilight time, when evening shadows deepen imperceptibly, until all color finally disappears. The dress is not gray, but the fact that it looks gray is a key to Homer's intense fascination with relativism. He recognized that no hue or value is absolute but can change almost infinitely, depending on conditions of viewing, quality and kind of light, and the presence of tones and colors around it.

Homer was profoundly affected by his study of the French chemist M. E. Chevreul's Laws of the Contrast of Colour (first published in 1839), which he owned in a translation given him in 1860 by his brother Charles. There is ample evidence that Homer methodically worked his way through Chevreul's equally methodical text, which detailed every possible variation and combination of color, and their effects. In his Civil War paintings, for example, Homer systematically analyzed the reciprocal influences of the complementaries blue and orange in all conditions of weather, atmosphere, and natural and artificial light. Among other phenomena, he found that blue, lit by a red-gold campfire at night, mutated to a murky, greenish gray.[15]

In the mid-seventies, Homer seems to have been particularly intent on observing color as it faded in the afterglow of sunset or just before sunrise on a hazy morning. Milking Time (finished in the winter of 1875) studies effects similar to those in Rab and the Girls, though the subject -- a dairymaid, a farmer's boy, and a pasture full of cows - is more rustic. Here the hazy sky (it could be dawn or dusk, both milking times on the farm) is a creamy gold. In the dull light the boy's shirt -- probably white or buff-- has dimmed to gray, and the dairymaid's calico dress, which would be pink in the sun, has soured to a drab, dirty beige. Her cheeks, like those of the girls in Rab, glow bronze in the indirect radiance of the hidden sun. Together these paintings testify to the formal and coloristic problems that preoccupied Homer at that moment. Characteristically, he studied the problem as a brace of variations on a theme, making an orderly progression from milky dawn (or dusk) to gray twilight, from calico to velvet, from bovine to canine.

Finally, there is the question of pairing. Although many of Homer's early and later paintings are multi-figural, he returned again and again to the simple but often dynamic binarism of the couple, juxtaposing dark against light as in Rab, or young and old as in The Two Guides (circa 1875; Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute), which dates from the same period. In this painting, two woodsmen with axes and other gear are trekking high in the Adirondacks, the distinctive profile of Beaver Mountain rising in the background. Rugged and grizzled, the older man (in real life, the well-known character Orson Phelps) raises his arm and points to something beyond the left margin of the picture. His young companion (Monroe Holt, another Adirondacks native) is tall, handsome, and strapping, resplendent in a brilliant red shirt and a well-trimmed moustache.

At some point between 1874 and 1877, Homer executed a variation on this composition in Beaver Mountain (circa 1876; Newark Museum). Here he performed a gender switch, replacing the Adirondack guides with two women in stylish hiking costumes. One, wearing a light-colored dress, points aloft, while her companion, in a darker suit, attentively follows her gesture. In the background old Orson Phelps looks on, but the focus remains on the two women.[16]

Homer's earlier work, especially his illustrations, often featured social groupings of young women and men, flirting, picnicking, playing croquet, ice-skating, and dancing. Through the 1870s, in farm scenes and beach scenes, Homer continued to depict boys and girls or men and women together. Yet by the early 1880s, men and women in Homer's paintings existed in worlds almost completely separate. On rare occasions, they came together again dramatically, as in The Life Line (1884; Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Undertow (1886; Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute) in which daring men pull helpless women from dangerous seas. In most cases, however, they remained segregated, working and communing, and even dancing with others of their sex, as in Homer's A Summer Night (1890; Musée d' Orsay) with its two women twirling in a close embrace by the shore of the moonlit sea.

Rab and the Girls occupies an important point on this continuum, midway between the sociable and often cheerful scenes of modern life that constituted a significant portion of Homer's earlier output, and the stark scenes of survival and frequent mortality that dominated his later production. Men and women in same-sex couples emerged nearly at the outset of his career as a painter. During the Civil War, soldiers kept company together, as in The Brierwood Pipe (1864; The Cleveland Museum of Art) depicting two colorfully uniformed Zouave soldiers whiling and whittling away their hours in camp. In the same year, Homer painted Waverly Oaks (1864; Fundacion Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), two young women in full skirts, strolling in the shadows of the woods. In the 1870s, more and more the woodsmen kept their own company and women sauntered or sat together, as in Promenade on the Beach or Backgammon.

In his laboring-class subjects, Homer persistently coupled females, as in The Cotton Pickers (1876; Los Angeles County Museum of Art), which represents two robust African-American women silhouetted against the horizon in sunbonnets and coarse work dresses. These native workers gave way in turn to the protracted series of stalwart fishwives on the north coast of England, knitting, mending nets, and keeping vigil on the shore -- often in pairs though sometimes constituting a trio. Men, meanwhile, went out to sea or into the mountains in pairs -- to struggle and sometimes die together.

Nothing so fraught with danger appears to be happening in Rab and the Girls, of course. The green sprig of clover is the fulcrum on which the composition hangs in the balance, visually poised to tip first this way and then that, neither side outweighing the other. Yet in its equilibrium there is not resolution but suspense: the suspense of the open-ended story, the artful refusal to deliver a coherent narrative package, and the persistent enigma that hovers around these women and their dog at twilight in the peaceful countryside of upstate New York. A fragment of a story embedded in a sedulously calculated design, Rab and the Girls remains a riddle in paint. If Rab knows the answer, he's not telling.


1. Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], ed., The Art Treasures of America (Philadelphia: George Barnie, 1879), v. 3, p. 86. Homer probably began making studies for Rab and the Girls in the fall of 1875, when he was working in the vicinity of rural Hurley, in Ulster County, New York. The identity of the models is not known. More puzzling, there is some mystery surrounding the presence of the dog. Strahan in 1879 was the first critic to take note of the animal at all, let alone by the name "Rab". Critics in 1876, by contrast, never remarked on this interesting and conspicuous figure, writing only about the two girls and the empty meadow. This seeming oversight suggests that the dog was added later, perhaps at the new owner's request or on Homer's own initiative. At this writing, the problem has yet to be resolved. I thank Margi Conrads for supplying information and insight into this issue.

2. Vergilius Ferm, A Brief Dictionary of American Superstitions (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959), pp. 97-98.

3. See Patricia Hills, catalogue entry for The Four-Leaf Clover, in Detroit Institute of Arts, American Paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts, vol. 2 (Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts Founders Society, 1997) pp. 121-123

4. Homer's watercolors often prefigure the bigger and more elaborate oils; this was his typical working method.

5. Letter, Winslow Homer to George Walter Vincent Smith, March 3, 1880, curatorial files, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield; quoted in Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., and Franklin Kelly, Winslow Homer, exhibition catalogue (Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 1995), p. 196.

6. On this problem of Homer's movement from narrative to design see Roger Stein, "Picture and Text: The Literary World of Winslow Homer," in Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., ed., Winslow Homer: A Symposium [Studies in the History of Art, vol. 26] (Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 1990), pp. 33-59.

8. John Brown, Horae Subsecivae; Rab and His Friends, and Other Papers (Leipzig: Bernard Tauchnitz, 1862), pp. 2-17.

9. George R. Jesse, Researches into the History of the British Dog (London: Robert Hardwick, 1866), vol. 2, pp. 224, 227, 398.

10. In fact, we don't even know the sex of Homer's dog for a certainty. Given the alignment of the mastiff's salient traits - combativeness, bravery, strength -- with mainstream constructions of Victorian masculinity, it seems safe to assume that Homer's Rab is male. On the riddle of Rab's origins, see Note 1 above.

11. "Fine Arts. The National Academy Exhibition," The Nation 22 (April 20, 1876): 268.

12. Cikovsky, Winslow Homer, pp. 64-68, discusses the impact of industrial mechanization on Homer's working methods.

13. On the re-titling and re-dating of this painting see Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., "Winslow Homer's (So-called) Morning Bell," The American Art Journal 29, nos. 1 and 2 (1998): 4-17.

14. Homer apparently had a Bo-Peep costume, which he brought to his friend and patron Lawson Valentine's Houghton Farm in Mountainville, New York, and used to dress the local children who served as models for the shepherdess paintings he produced in 1878. See Helen Cooper, Winslow Homer Watercolors (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 60.

15. On Homer's interest in and application of color theory, see Jana Therese Colacino, "Winslow Homer Watercolors and the Color Theories of M. E. Chevreul, " M. A. Thesis, Syracuse University, 1994, and Kristin Hoermann, "A Hand Formed to Use the Brush," in Marc Simpson, Winslow Homer: Paintings of the Civil War, exhibition catalogue, (San Francisco; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 1988), pp. 102-119.

16. For a thorough discussion of The Two Guides and Beaver Mountain, see David Tatham, Winslow Homer in the Adirondacks (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996), pp. 65-80.


About the author

Sarah Burns (Ph.D, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is Ruth N. Hall Professor of Fine Arts at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the author of Pastoral Inventions: Rural Life in Nineteenth Century Art and Culture (1989) and Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in the Gilded Age in America (1996). She was, at the time of writing of this essay, at work on a book, Painting the Dark Side: Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth Century America.


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