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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.
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
  • 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.
  • From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2014-2016.
Provenance Commissioned by William T. Walters (through George A. Lucas as agent), Baltimore, March 9, 1861 [1]; inherited by Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 1931. [1] The Diary of George A Lucas, p.104, commissioned from the artist, on November 1, 1859.
Inscriptions [Signature] At lower right: HUGUES MERLE
Credit Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1859

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oil on canvas
(Painting & Drawing)
Accession Number
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)

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