Violet Oakley, The Child and Tradition

Violet Oakley: The Child and Tradition  (1910-1911) Oil on canvas
The Child and Tradition
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of the South Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross, 1963
84 x 165 in.

A leading figure in American art throughout her life, Violet Oakley (1874 -1961) was a painter, muralist, illustrator, portraitist, architectural and industrial designer, writer, civic leader, and advocate for world peace.

Impressed by a series of murals Oakley had completed in the Pennsylvania State Capitol, banker Charlton Yarnall commissioned Oakley to create a series of murals for the entrance hall and music room of his new neo-renaissance mansion at 17th and Locusts Streets in Philadelphia. The murals, collectively titled Building the House of Wisdom (1911), are considered to be among Oakley’s greatest achievements.

The Child and Tradition is the first in a series of three large lunettes in the Yarnall house murals. At its center, seated on the knees of his mother and nurse, a small child symbolizes mankind in its infancy. The child is safe to dream about the great figures of history and literature.  In his imagination: Confucius (lower left); Solomon (left); Cicero (lower right); and Dante, preceded by his courtly, idealized love, Beatrice (right). The scene takes place in a stairwell that the child must climb to reach the next level of maturity, symbolized in the lunette Youth and the Arts. The final of the three lunettes is Man and Science.

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