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Hermia and Helena

before 1818 Washington Allston Born: Georgetown, South Carolina 1779 Died: Cambridgeport, Massachusetts 1843 oil on canvas 30 3/8 x 25 1/4 in. (77.2 x 64.2 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program and made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, the Catherine Walden Myer Fund, and the National Institute 1990.21 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, East Wing


Gallery Label

Washington Allston said that this painting represented "the singleness and unity of friendship." He posed the two women so that they suggest one figure, and they read from a shared book. In Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, Helena eloquently describes her friendship with Hermia in the third act: "So we grew together, / Like to a double cherry . . . / Two lovely berries moulded on one stem."

Like many Americans of his time, Allston was educated in the classics. He painted Hermia and Helena in England when the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was reviving Shakespeare's plays. A friend of Allston's, Coleridge felt that Shakespeare expressed human sentiment perfectly.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Keywords

Figure group - female

Landscape - waterfall

Literature - Shakespeare - Midsummer Night's Dream

Portrait female - Helena

Portrait female - Hermia

Recreation - leisure - reading

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About Washington Allston

Born: Georgetown, South Carolina 1779 Died: Cambridgeport, Massachusetts 1843

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