A Patrician Mother

Anna Lea Merritt (American, 1844–1930)
1875
Currently on view
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions58 × 34 1/2 inches
CreditGift of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Trevor, 1971
Accession Number71.28.1

Artist Anna Lea, a Philadelphia-born Quaker, moved with her family to Europe in 1865 and studied art in France, Italy and Germany. In 1870s London, she fell in love with English art critic Henry Merritt, but was married and widowed the same year, 1877. She herself had a long career as a Victorian portraitist, landscapist, muralist and allegorical painter.

The artist began this earlier work as Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter with an illegitimate babe in arms. Before she had developed her grand scheme, including a crowd of stern Pilgrims, a London painting teacher suggested Lea rework the painting to show a splendidly dressed aristocrat proudly holding her well-fed infant and heir. Anna did, and A Patrician Mother received a medal at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. After the fair the painting was exhibited in Brooklyn; and probably around that time, Mr. and Mrs. John Bond Trevor acquired it to hang in their newly completed Victorian mansion, Glenview, now part of the Hudson River Museum.