Under the Bough

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Under the Bough

United States, before 1913
Oil on canvas
26 3/8 x 40 1/16 in. (66.99 x 101.76 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection (71.2)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

The title Golden Bough is written in an unidentified hand on the canvas stretcher of this painting....
The title Golden Bough is written in an unidentified hand on the canvas stretcher of this painting. Davies did exhibit a painting with such a title in 1909, but no such work is listed in Czestochowski’s catalogue raisonné of Davies’s art. This particular canvas has been exhibited under its present title since 1914. If it was originally shown as Golden Bough, the reason for Davies changing the title is not known. The artist was familiar with Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and such an extensive study on religion and mythology could easily have initially inspired Davies. In fact, Davies named his farm in upstate New York The Golden Bough. Under the Bough is an idyllic scene about romance without any specific mythological reference. A bird 'symbol of sweetness' is perched on the hand of the woman on the far left. Her gesture is similar to that of the young boy in Davies’s Earth’s Secret as a Little Child, c. 1905 (private collection). The seated woman raises a locket, which may signify memory, and the cupid figure refers to love. Suggesting beauty and youth, the lovely nude woman in the foreground carries a basket of flowers. The figures are set in a forest glade full of blossoming plants. In several paintings from his mature period, before his experiments with synchromism, Davies placed a small group of figures in such a tranquil forest setting near a lake. In only a few instances did he detail the surrounding shrubbery, using splotches of lightcolored leaves to highlight the dark scene. The setting as well as the figures, which are garbed in diaphanous gowns or are nude, hark back to Primavera and the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), an artist Davies greatly admired. The inclusion of two medieval horsemen on white chargers in the distant background are out of keeping with the classical figures, but allude to Botticelli’s time and to the general themes of Botticelli’s most famous paintings: springtime and love. Under the Bough has a compositional treatment similar to that of The Jewel-Bearing Tree of Amity, exhibited in 1913 (Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, N. Y.). Davies depicted the figures in large scale, scattering them throughout the landscape, so they are in different planes and do not communicate with one another. The sense of isolation reinforces the dreamlike mood of the scene. Indeed, the cupid figure in the center seems to be walking in a trance. In both paintings the figure in the lower left foreground is cut off by the edge of the picture.

About The Era

The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture....
The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture. Great riches were amassed by railroad tycoons and land barons, and along with this came the desire for a luxurious standard of living. Collectors filled their homes with European as well as American works of art. American artists, generally trained abroad, often painted in styles that were indistinguishable from their European counterparts.
Most Americans who studied abroad did so in the European academies, which promoted uplifting subject matter and a representational style that emphasized well-modeled, clearly defined forms and realistic color. Academic painting served American artists well, for their clients demanded elaborate large-scale paintings to demonstrate their wealth and social positions. With an emphasis on material objects and textures, academic artists immortalized their patrons’ importance in full-length portraits.
Academic painting dominated taste in Europe throughout the century. But in the 1860s impressionism emerged in France as a reaction to this hegemony. By the 1880s this “new painting” was still considered progressive. Mary Cassatt was the only American invited to participate in the revolutionary Paris impressionist exhibitions. Despite her participation and the early interest of several other American painters, few Americans explored impressionism until the 1890s. Impressionist painters no longer had to choose subject matter of an elevated character but instead could depict everyday scenes and incidents. Nor did impressionists have to record the physical world with the objective detail of a photograph. Artists were now encouraged to leave their studios and paint outside under different weather conditions. American impressionists used the new aesthetic to capture the charm and beauty of the countryside and the city as well as the quiet delicacy of domestic interiors.


  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.