"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Abbott Handerson Thayer

This 1920 self-portrait of Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) hangs in an exhibit on self-portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
Completed a year before his death, Abbott Handerson Thayer's darkly dramatic self-portrait is one of several that he created at the end of his life. According to scholar Kevin Murphy, Thayer's need to protect from guarding his own children to caring for the environment in his home state of New Hampshire was a guiding force for the artist.
Thayer is best known for his landscapes and paintings of ideal women and winged angels, but he spent many years studying natural science and theories of evolution. He developed ideas about camouflage and visual protection in the natural world and co-authored a book with his son Gerald entitled Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909).

These ideas informed his approach to painting as well, for as in this portrait, he often used the painterly surface of his work, with its dark coloration and sense of insubstantiality, to hide elements of the figure.

A more typical A. H. Thayer painting is this portrait of his daughter Mary, entitled "Angel" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The painting below Blue Jays in Winter is a study for the book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom ca. 1905-9 by Abbott Handerson Thayer. It belongs to the Smithsonian  American Art Museum.

A H Thayer

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