November 15, 2017
Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912), Thesmophoria, 1894-1897, oil on canvas, 25 x 50 1/4 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Ira and Mary Lou Fulton, 2003.
This highlight from the MOA collection is a study for a large mural that once decorated the Bank of Pittsburgh. Millet depicts a procession of beautiful women in white performing the ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria—a rite honoring Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. During the late 19th century, the Aesthetic art movement sought to create harmonious, decorative images rendered with an elegant restraint many felt was lacking in Victorian art. Thus, allegorical figures of women in flowing gowns, inspired by classical Greece and Rome, were common motifs in murals created for both civic and commercial buildings.
Millet’s painting embraces the classical ideals of America’s founders, who saw the nation as continuing the democratic principles of Greco-Roman civilization. Many Americans who viewed this image saw the white-robed worshippers as a parade of their forebears. An American native, Millet painted this from his English home in the Cotswolds. Millet tragically died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, while en route to New York City.
This painting is currently on display at the MOA in the exhibition Shaping America.