The Grandmother

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The Grandmother

United States, 1889
Paintings
Oil on canvas
36 3/8 x 28 7/8 in. (92.39 x 73.34 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Barney Kully (M.77.57)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

A powerful image of an old peasant woman resigned to her approaching death, this painting may be Page’s masterpiece....
A powerful image of an old peasant woman resigned to her approaching death, this painting may be Page’s masterpiece. The stark chiaroscuro and almost monochromatic palette of deathly blacks, browns, and grays convey the woman’s condition. Her drawn and wrinkled face is propped up against a large pillow, which forms a halo around her face. With her hands tightly folded, she turns toward the right where a small glass of violets, symbols of death, rests on a bare wood table. In this vividly realist work Page displays a thorough knowledge of the human figure, based no doubt on his academic training. This painting may have been exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1889 as La Grand-mère. A critic in the American Register noted Page’s strongly drawn and expressive figure. Another critic may have been considering Page’s painting when he deplored the large number of "funer[e]al, dolorious, or elegiac subjects" in the exhibition (Theodore Child, "The Paris Salon of 1889," Art Amateur 21 [June 1889]: 7). George W. Lininger, who owned the painting in the early years of this century, had a large collection of old-master and nineteenth-century European and, to a far lesser extent, American paintings, sculptures, and objets d’art. He opened a gallery for his collection in Omaha in 1888 and permitted the public to visit twice weekly.
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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.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Crombie, MD, David H.  "The Surgeon's Art."  Archives of Surgery 137 (4): 395 (April 2002).