by Hugues Merle
The Scarlet Letter1861
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.
- H: 39 5/16 x W: 31 15/16 in. (99.9 x 81.1 cm)
- oil on canvas
- Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum
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