Artist: Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921)
Historical period(s)
Oil on canvas
H x W: 229.7 x 182.5 cm (90 7/16 x 71 7/8 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Grand Staircase Corridor

Oil painting

child, family, United States

From 1893 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Abbott Handerson Thayer in February, 1893 [1]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [2]


[1] See Object file.

[2] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Abbott Handerson Thayer (C.L. Freer source) 1849-1921
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


Thayer began this group portrait of his children, Gladys, Mary, and Gerald, soon after the untimely death of their mother in 1891.  He originally envisioned the central figure, Mary (who temporarily took charge of Gladys and Gerald), as Flora, the Greek goddess of flowers, but as the work progressed he decided to make her a Greek "Victory" figure instead, with clouds billowing behind her like wings.

The model for Mary's dramatic stance was a famous Hellenistic sculpture in the Louvre, the Nike of Samothrace (second century B.C.E.), known as the Winged Victory.  Thayer would have seen that sculpture while he was a student in Paris during the late 1870s, when it was reinstalled at the head of the grand staircase.  A related inspiration was the Sherman Monument, by Thayer's friend and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907).  Commissioned in 1891 and unveiled in 1903 at the Grand Army Plaza, New York City, the monument features a powerfully winged female figure, also modeled on the Winged Victory, leading the commander of the Union army into battle.

Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), founder of the Freer Gallery of Art, purchased Thayer's "A Virgin" in 1893 and hung the painting above the landing in the stair hall of his Detroit residence where, like the Winged Victory in the Louvre, it could be admired from various vantage points.  Freer acknowledged Thayer's visual allusion in 1910 by ordering a plaster cast of the Winged Victory to be displayed beside A Virgin in an exhibition at the University of Michigan, along with other important works on Asian and American art from his collection.

Published References
  • Elizabeth Lee. The Medicine of Art., 1. United Kingdom. Cover.
  • Clara Bassett. Mental Hygiene in the Community. New York. frontispiece.
  • unknown title. Washington, April 1933. frontispiece.
  • unknown title. Jamaica, New York, February 1928. frontispiece.
  • Art Exhibit: April 6, 1926, Clairton High School. Exh. cat. Clairton, PA. cover.
  • unknown title. New York, May 2, 1925. frontispiece.
  • Buffalo Fine Arts Academy. Academy notes. Buffalo, July 1910. frontispiece.
  • Kristin Schwain. Signs of Grace: Religion and American Art in the Gilded Age. Ithaca. cover.
  • Sarah Gorham. Don't Go Back to Sleep. Sparks, MD. cover.
  • William H. Gerdts. Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1710-1920. 3 vols., New York. pl. 1.25.
  • Smithsonian Institution. Centennial Exhibition of Paintings by Abbott Handerson Thayer, N.A. (1849-1921): August 12th through December 1949. Exh. cat. Washington, August 12 - December 1949. no. 34.
  • Leila Mechlin. Many Splendid Thayers Found in Local Galleries. Washington, Saturday, 13 June 1936. sec. B, p. 3.
  • Nathaniel Pousette-Dart, Royal Cortissoz. Abbott H. Thayer. Distinguished American artists New York. pl. 14.
  • Royal Cortissoz. American Artists. New York. frontispiece.
  • Helen M. Beatty. Abbott H. Thayer, in the Field of Art. vol. 70 New York, September 1921. ill. 382.
  • Second Exhibition: Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artists. Exh. cat. Washington, December 8, 1908 - January 17, 1909. frontispiece.
  • Notes of Art and Artists. Washington, May 6, 1923. .
  • Mary Ellen Hayward. The Influence of the Classical Oriental Tradition. vol. 14, no. 2 Chicago, Summer 1979. fig. 25.
  • Burns A. Stubbs. Paintings, Pastels, Drawings, Prints, and Copper Plates by and Attributed to American and European Artists, Together with a List of Original Whistleriana, in the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 1, no. 2, 2nd ed. Washington, 1967. pl. 13.
  • Montgomery County Mental Hygiene Society. Mental Health in Montgomery County. Bethesda, MD. p. 1.
  • Emily Towe. The People's Choice -- in Paintings. Washington, January 16, 1955. pp. 4-5.
  • Eugenia Eckford. The Virgin -- Abbott H. Thayer. vol. 44 Dansville, New York, May 1935. pp. 12-13, 54, 89.
  • Maria Oakey Dewing. Abbott Thayer--A Portrait and An Appreciation. vol. 74, August 1921. p. 12.
  • Thomas Lawton, Linda Merrill. Freer: a legacy of art. Washington and New York, 1993. pp. 13, 25-7, 157, fig. 1.
  • unknown title. Philadelphia, PA, November 1926. p. 16.
  • Royal Cortissoz. Personal Memories. vol. 1, June-July 1921. p. 16, pl. 1.25.
  • Kevin M. Murphy. "Not Theories but Revelations" The Art and Science of Abbott Handerson Thayer. Williamstown, Massachusetts. p. 17, fig. 3.
  • With Kindest Regards: The Correspondence of Charles Lang Freer and James McNeill Whistler 1890-1903. Washington. p. 19.
  • Society of American Artists. New York, May 23, 1892. p. 2.2.
  • Thomas W. Brunk. The House that Freer Built. no. 3, Spring 1981. p. 25.
  • Carnegie Institute, Department of Fine Arts. Exhibition of Paintings by Abbott H. Thayer held at Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, April 24-June 30, 1919. Exh. cat. Pittsburgh. p. 26.
  • Monthly Record of American Art. vol. 16 London. p. 26.
  • Ross Anderson. Angel in the Parlor: The Art of Abbott Thayer. vol. 34, no. 1 New York, December 1982. p. 27.
  • The University of Michigan. Catalogue of an Exhibition of Oriental and American Art: Alumni Memorial Hall, May 11-30, 1910. Exh. cat. Ann Arbor. p. 28.
  • Ideals of Beauty: Asian and American Art in the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Thames and Hudson World of Art London and Washington, 2010. pp. 32-33.
  • Elizabeth Lee. Therapeutic Beauty: Abbot Thayer, Antimodernism, and the Fear of Disease. vol. 18, no. 3 Washington, Fall 2004. p. 43, cover, fig. 11.
  • Thomas B. Brumbaugh. A Seated Angel. vol. 7, Spring and Fall, 1971. p. 52.
  • Ross Anderson. Abbott Handerson Thayer. Syracuse. pp. 63-64, 79.
  • Nelson C. White. Abbott H. Thayer: Painter and Naturalist. Hartford. pp. 63, 64, 71, 210, 216.
  • Public Favorites., February 9, 1955. p. 64.
  • Homer Saint-Gaudens. Abbott H. Thayer. vol. 33, January 1908. p. 82.
  • Susan Hobbs. A Connoisseur's Vision of America: The American Collection of Charles Lang Freer., August 1977. p. 82.
  • , Gary Levine, Robert R. Praeto, Francine Tyler. La Femme: The Influence of Whistler and Japanese Print Masters on American Art, 1880-1917. Exh. cat. New York, October 26 - December 30, 1983. p. 84.
  • Alexander Eliot. Three Hundred Years of American Painting. New York. p. 113.
  • William Henry Thayer. The William Henry Thayer Journal. Concord, Massachusetts. p. 121.
  • Maria Oakey Dewing. The Thayer Memorial Exhibition. vol. 13 New York, May 1922. p. 150.
  • David Park Curry. Charles Lang Freer and American Art. vol. 118, no. 258, special issue., August 1983. pp. 168-179, fig. 10.
  • Leila Mechlin. Some American Figure Painters. vol. 39, January 1910. p. 187.
  • Nancy R.E. Bell. An American Painter: Abbott H. Thayer. vol. 6 New York, February 1899. pp. 248, 252.
  • Helen W. Henderson. The Art Treasures of Washington: An Account of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and of the National Gallery and Museum, with Descriptions and Criticisms of their Contents. The Art Galleries of America series Boston. p. 250.
  • Wendell D. Garrett. The Arts in America: The Nineteenth Century. New York. p. 262.
  • Helen M. Beatty. Abbott H. Thayer. vol. 12 New York, October 1921. p. 329 (as "Angel").
  • Edwards Park. Treasures from the Smithsonian Institution., 1st ed. Washington and New York. p. 364.
  • unknown title. New York, January 1903. p. 366.
  • Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Abbott H. Thayer. vol. 46, no. 8, May 1905. pp. 422-423.
  • Kenyon Cox. Some American Figure-Painters. New York, April 1902. pp. 595-96.
  • Thomas B. Brumbaugh. The Monumental Art of Abbott H. Thayer. vol. 103, June 1973. p. 1135.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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