The Holy Spirit and the Soul as Revealed in Nature

The Ideals of John Ruskin (1819–1900) in the Art of Anna Lea Merritt (1844–1930)

in Religion and the Arts
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The artist Anna Lea Merritt (1844–1930) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and spent most of her professional life in London and in a rural village in Surrey. She settled in England in 1871 and soon became a friend of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in their mature years, the art critic John Ruskin, the late Victorian artists George Frederick Watts and Frederick, Lord Leighton, and others in the London artistic and literary community. In the milieu she had chosen, her intimate and spiritual relationship with nature and her sympathy for all mankind, ingrained in her in childhood among Unitarians and Quakers in Philadelphia, developed into paintings, murals, and etchings that were at once academic, naturalistic, and mystical. In re-introducing this little known woman artist today, this article focuses on her work as one that evokes the spirit and beauty of the natural world and sympathy for the plight of the suffering, both eloquent testimonials to the ideals and beliefs of her renowned friend and contemporary, John Ruskin and to late Victorian liberal sensibilities.

The Holy Spirit and the Soul as Revealed in Nature

The Ideals of John Ruskin (1819–1900) in the Art of Anna Lea Merritt (1844–1930)

in Religion and the Arts

Sections

References

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The siege ended in 1885after 11000 deaths of English and Egyptian soldiers with the murder and beheading of the renowned British Brigadier General Charles George Gordon. This painting was however completed and exhibited two years before Gordon’s death. One recent text the catalogue of The Women’s Art Show 1550–1970 Nottingham Castle Museum 1982 modifies the standard interpretation of the painting but not significantly. Beside the reproduction of the painting the text states: “This painting is described by the artist herself in her list of works as Five women one boy watching army return-ancient dress. It shows her respect for the classical tradition. It also shows the women’s side of war—the anxieties the fears & the long wait as opposed to the glorification of war (see Lady Butler). The war refers to the siege of Khartoum and the death of general Gordon during the Egyptian Campaign of 1882–1884.”

Figures

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    Figure 1

    William Holman Hunt. The Light of the World, 1851–1853. Oil on canvas, 23.5” × 49.5”. Keble College, Oxford, UK. Printed by permission of Keble College, Oxford, UK.

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    Figure 2

    Anna Lea Merritt. Love Locked Out, 1890. Oil on canvas, 3’8” × 2’2”. Tate Gallery, London. Printed by permission of Tate Gallery, London, UK.

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    Figure 3

    George Frederick Watts. Love and Death, 1885–1887. Oil on canvas, 8’1” × 3’10”. Tate Gallery, London. Printed by permission of Tate Gallery, London, UK.

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    Figure 4

    George Frederick Watts. The Habit Maketh not the Monk, 1889. Oil on canvas, 2’ × 3’6”. Russell-Coates Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth, UK. Printed by permission of Russell-Coates Gallery and Museum.

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    Figure 5

    “Putti.” Anatomy of the External Forms of Man intended for the use of Artists, Painters, and Sculptors (London: Hippolyte Ballière, 1849). Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 6

    Anna Lea Merritt. Mary and Dorothy Shipley, 1902. Oil on canvas, 3’2” × 4’. Shipley School, Bryn Mawr, PA. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 7

    Anna Lea Merritt. Sir William Boxall, 1878. Oil on canvas, 2’10” × 4’. Royal Academy, London, UK. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 8

    The studio of Anna Lea Merritt in Hurstbourne-Tarrant, Surrey, UK. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 9

    Anna Lea Merritt. The Piping Shepherd, 1896. Oil on canvas. 21” × 25”. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Printed by permission of PAFA.

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    Figure 10

    Anna Lea Merritt. Eve Overcome by Remorse, 1885. Oil on wood, 3’7” × 2’6”. Sold at Christies’ Auction in 2013 to unidentified Private collection. Printed by permission of Salty Bread, jtmoger.wordpress.com/tag/serpent.

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    Figure 11

    Anna Lea Merritt. St. Cecilia, 1887. Etching of 1886. Unlocated painting, 6” × 8”. Private Collection, Blackheath, Surrey, UK. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 12

    Anna Lea Merritt. Ellen Terry in the Role of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, 1879. Etching 6.3” × 9.1”. Private Collection, Blackheath, Surrey UK. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 13

    Anna Lea Merritt. Ophelia, 1880. Oil on canvas 23.6” × 17.3”. Smart Museum, University of Chicago. Printed by permission of Smart Museum, University of Chicago.

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    Figure 14

    Anna Lea Merritt. Ophelia, 1880. Etching, 8.1” × 6/9”, The National Gallery, London. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 15

    Anna Lea Merritt. War, 1883. Oil on canvas, 3’4” × 4’1”. Bury Gallery and Art Museum, Bury, UK. Printed by Permission of Bury Gallery and Art Museum.

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    Figure 16

    Anna Lea Merritt. The Nativity and The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1893–1894. Keim process wall mural. St. Martin’s Church, Blackheath, UK. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 17

    Anna Lea Merritt. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, 1893–1894. Keim process wall mural. St. Martin’s Church, Blackheath, UK. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 18

    Anna Lea Merritt. Watchers of the Straight Gate, 1894. Oil on canvas, 30” × 47”. La Salle University Art Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 19

    Anna Lea Merritt. I will give you Rest, 1900. Oil on wood, 4’6” × 7’6”. St. Matthew’s Church, Walsall, UK. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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    Figure 20

    Anna Lea Merritt. The Weaving Shed, 1910. Etching, 14” × 10.3”. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE. Printed by permission of Delaware Art Museum.

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    Figure 21

    Anna Lea Merritt. Three Nurses Attending a Wounded Soldier, 1915. Etching, 9.3” × 12.2”. Guildhall Gallery, London. Photograph by N. Davenport.

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