Alexander Pope (American, 1849–1924)
The Wild Swan, 1900
Oil on canvas
57 x 44 ½ in. (144.8 x 113 cm)

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Alexander Pope began drawing and carving sculptures of waterfowl when he was a young boy in Massachusetts and became one of America’s popular gaming artists. This composition may look rather modern to some contemporary viewers, owing to its formal simplicity and strictly limited palette, but it is also extremely anatomically detailed. The painting’s affiliations lie somewhere between a sportsman’s still life, trompe l’oeil, and portraiture for the study attempts to find in the stilled body of the swan what is uniquely perfect in its form. The swan, of course, is known as a symbol of grace and beauty in many folktales and children’s stories, and Pope has retained something of that mystique in this picture, which conveys a certain elegance even in death. Indeed the swan’s pose evokes something of a crucifix-shape. The painting was owned by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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