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Abbott Handerson Thayer : “Hebe” (c. 1890)

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Toward the end of the 1880s, just as Abbott Handerson Thayer’s success as a portrait painter reached its peak, his beloved first wife, Kate, was diagnosed with acute melancholia. First hospitalized in early 1888, she died in an asylum in May 1891. In response to this tragedy, Thayer began to make paintings explaining the ideal role of women, both in a spiritual and moral sense.

Thayer believed the high moral nature of women was constantly threatened by their participation in worldly affairs. The ideal women in his canvases are depicted wearing vaguely Grecian costumes, as in this unfinished painting.

Here, Thayer portrayed Hebe, the goddess of youth and spring, as the cupbearer of the gods. As a divine being, Hebe was kept safe from the influence of the outside world, providing Thayer some relief in regard to his anxiety about the changing role of women.

(Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art).

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