May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

New England

c. 1818–1822

Watercolor on silk, with applied gold foil and paper label, in original gilded wood frame

24 7/8 x 28 3/8 x 2 1/4"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.46

Photo © John Bigelow Taylor, New York

Artist unidentified


There is a strong element of apotheosis in this homage to Aurora, goddess of the morn. Such imagery became popular after the death of George Washington, who was sometimes pictured in mythological terms ascending to heaven. This is one of ten related watercolors from an unidentified school, most with Massachusetts histories and five of which feature similar renditions of Aurora. In each the goddess is in a chariot drawn by two eagles or horses and embellished with collaged gold paper stars. The painting on silk is related to other schoolgirl arts such as mourning pieces, which also included townscapes. Symbolizing earthly existence, the main drama of such projects suggested leaving this realm for the rewards of the world to come. The poem, whose source is not yet identified, is printed on paper and affixed to the silk surface. Aurora has survived in its original frame with a label by the Boston concern Stillman Lothrop. The address on the label dates the watercolor between 1818 and 1822.

Religious, historical, and mythological themes were deemed appropriate topics for schoolgirls as they perfected the ornamental arts. Other pieces belonging to this group relate the biblical story of Jephthah’s Rash Vow as well as Naiads, a type of nymph from classical mythology.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Aurora,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.