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Anna Lea Merritt, A.R.E. (American, 1844-1930)
Property of La Salle University
Anna Lea Merritt, A.R.E. (American, 1844-1930)

The Watchers of the Straight Gate

Anna Lea Merritt, A.R.E. (American, 1844-1930)
The Watchers of the Straight Gate
signed with the artist's monogram and dated 'ALM/1894' (lower left)
oil on canvas
45 ¼ x 34 in. (114.9 x 86.4 cm.)
The artist.
Rev. Gerald Campbell Dicker (1853-1949), Birkenhead, acquired directly from the above.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 1 February 1972, lot 41.
Douglas, acquired at the above sale.
with Old Hall Gallery, Iden-Rye, Sussex.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 1973.
'Fine Arts, The Royal Academy,' The Athenaeum, London, no. 3475, 2 June 1894, p. 715.
'Papers of Anna Lea Merritt,' Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts Library, series III, folder 6, no. 38, illustrated, as Watchers at the Straight Gate and Narrow Way.
A. L. Merrit, Love Locked Out: The Memoirs of Anna Lea Merritt with a checklist of her works, pp. 185-186, 248, pl. 18, illustrated.
C. J. Davis and K. West, Women Writers in the United States: A Timeline of Literary, Cultural, and Social History, Oxford, 1996, p. 150.
London, Royal Academy, Summer Exhibition, 7 May-6 August 1894, no. 404.

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Lot Essay

Though born in Philadelphia to a Quaker family, Anna Lea Merritt spent the majority of her life living and working in England after her family relocated to Europe from America when she was only 21 years old. She married Henry Merritt, an art critic and conservator, in 1877 when she was 33 years old and intended to give up her painting career after her wedding, but his death only a short three months later meant that Merritt would continue to ‘live by her brush’ and she became well-known for both her portraits and paintings of Victorian subjects. Her most famous painting, Love Locked Out, painted in 1889, was painted in response to the untimely loss of her husband. Writing in her memoirs, the artist described the subject, Cupid attempting in vain to force open the door of a mausoleum, as ‘Love waiting for the door of death to open’ so that the ‘lonely pair’ might be reunited. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890, Love Locked Out became the first painting by a female artist acquired for the British national collection via the Chantrey Bequest, and is now in the collection of the Tate.

Like Love Locked Out, The Watchers of the Straight Gate explores the artist’s idea of the liminal space between the living and the dead. Just inside the gate to Heaven, the artist depicts two angels – one carrying a scale on which to weigh the soul of whomever might try to pass through, and the other holding a crown of wild roses with which to welcome accepted souls into glory. Visible just past the gate is a verdant landscape with a path cutting through it, which the artist described as depicting the ‘steep road descending to our village’ of Hurstbourne Tarrant in Dorset, where she lived. The red marble columns behind the angels were inspired by the artist’s love of the red marble columns at the National Gallery in London, where she sought special permission to bring her canvas so that she could paint them directly, rather than from memory.

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