Violet Oakley, Youth and the Arts

Violet Oakley: Youth and the Arts (1910-1911) Oil on canvas
Youth and the Arts
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. Youth and the Arts is the second in a series of three large lunettes in the Yarnall house murals. Here the child, symbolizing Culture, has reached early adulthood.

Youth and the Arts shows a gathering of young people playing musical instruments and singing. As the piano accompanist, our child (now a man) binds the group together by providing the tempo and filling out the sound produced by the singer and flutist. Oakley described that the three beautifully attired women suggest the Three Graces, who symbolize the peaceful, disinterested love that offers total devotion and demands nothing in return.

If The Child and Tradition symbolizes ancient man and his creation of Wisdom, Youth and the Arts symbolizes the Renaissance period and the flowering of humankind’s artistic potential. Man and Science, the third and final lunette in the mural series represents the modern age and the sharing of wisdom and beauty.

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