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The Scarlet Letter
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The Scarlet Letter


Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Inscription Credit
Description Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of "The Scarlet Letter" (1850), regarded this painting, which William Walters commissioned from Merle in 1859, as the finest illustration of his novel. Set in Puritan Boston, the novel relates how Hester Prynne was publicly disgraced and condemned to wear a scarlet letter "A" for adultery. Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister who fathered her child, and Roger Chillingworth, Hester's elderly husband, appear in the background. Merle's canvas reflects some of the same 19th-century historical interest in the Puritans as Hawthorne's book, a fascination that reached its peak with the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. By depicting Hester and her daughter, Pearl, in a pose that recalls that of the Madonna and Child, Merle underlines "The Scarlet Letter"'s themes of sin and redemption.
Conservation
Date Description Narrative
1/30/1974Treatmentcoated; inpainted; varnish removed or reduced
4/20/1978Examinationexamined for loan
8/03/1992Examinationexamined for condition
4/27/1994Examinationexamined for exhibition
Exhibitions
  • The Second Empire 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoleon III. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit. 1978-1979.
  • A Magnificent Age: Masterpieces from the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte. 2002-2004.
Provenance William T. Walters, Baltimore, March 9, 1861, by commission [George A. Lucas as agent, commissioned from the artist, on November 1, 1859]; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Inscriptions [Signature] At lower right: HUGUES MERLE
Credit Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1859

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Period
1861
Medium
oil on canvas
(Painting & Drawing)
Accession Number
37.172
Measurements
H: 39 5/16 x W: 31 15/16 in. (99.9 x 81.1 cm); Framed H: 51 x W: 42 x D: 3 in. (129.5 x 106.7 x 7.6 cm)
Location Within Museum
Not On View

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