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Brother and Sister (Mary and Gerald Thayer)

1889 Abbott Handerson Thayer Born: Boston, Massachusetts 1849 Died: Dublin, New Hampshire 1921 oil on canvas 36 1/4 x 28 1/4 in. (92 x 71.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly 1929.6.114 Not currently on view


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This work portrays Abbott Thayer's children one year after their mother's hospitalization for "melancholia," or severe depression. Kate Thayer became physically ill while hospitalized, and Thayer wrote to a friend that her physical deterioration would not be so horrible "were her soul visible" (Anderson, Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1982). Thayer captured the sadness and worry of this difficult period in Mary's heavy-lidded, watery eyes and in Gerald’s searching expression. They look like a modern-day Madonna and Child. Their mother would live for two more years, but in this portrait it is as if Mary has already taken on her mother's role in the family. After Kate died, Thayer clung to his children as an emotional anchor, and he often depicted them as sacred figures.

Keywords

Children

Portrait female - Thayer, Mary - child

Portrait female - Thayer, Mary - waist length

Portrait group - family - siblings

Portrait male - Thayer, Gerald - child

Portrait male - Thayer, Gerald - knee length

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

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