December 4, 2022 2:00 EST

American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists Featuring the Collection of Charles and Virginia Bowden

  Lot 7


Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson (American, 1847–1906)
Meditation of the Holy Virgin 

Signed and dated 'S. Dodson/1899' bottom left, oil on canvas laid down to cradled panel
67 x 45 in. (170.2 x 114.3cm)


Private Collection, New Jersey.

$12,000 - $18,000

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Signed and dated 'S. Dodson/1899' bottom left, oil on canvas laid down to cradled panel
67 x 45 in. (170.2 x 114.3cm)


Private Collection, New Jersey.


"Paris Exposition Universelle," Paris, France, 1889, no. 90 (exhibited in the American art section of the World’s Fair.)
"Exhibition of Paintings by Sarah Ball Dodson," Corporation Art Galleries, Brighton, England, September 1910.
"Exhibition of Paintings by Sarah Ball Dodson," Goupil Gallery, London, United Kingdom, January 1911.
"Exhibition of Paintings by Sarah Ball Dodson," Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1911.
American Art Galleries (American Art Association), New York, New York, December 16-29, 1911, no. 81 (exhibited as La Meditation de la Sainte Vierge).
(Possibly) Library of the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1911.
"Paris 1889: American Artists at the Universal Exposition," Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia, September 29-December 17, 1989; also Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, Tennessee, February 1-April 15, 1990; and The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 6-July 15, 1990 (traveling exhibition).


“The Art of Miss Dodson,” in Brighton Gazette, September 1910, p. 8 (mentioned as The Meditation of Our Lady).
“Dodson Exhibition,” in The Daily Telegraph, January 11, 1911, p. 12 (mentioned as La Meditation de la Sainte Vierge).
(Possibly) “Notes of Art and Artists,” in Evening Star, Washington, D.C., June 17, 1911, p. 9.
Barbara Gallati, “The Paintings of Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson (1847-1906),” in American Art Journal, Vol. 15, Winter 1983, no. 1, pp. 67-82.
Annette Blaugrund, et al., Paris 1889: American Artists at the Universal Exposition, an exhibition catalogue, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia: in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1989, no. 90, pp. 142-44, 275 (illustrated).


We wish to thank Ms. Barbara Gallati for confirming the authenticity of the present work, and for her kind assistance in cataloguing the Lot.

Although Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson was regarded as one of the most technically accomplished artists of her generation, most parts of her career and œuvre remain unknown today. According to scholar Barbara Gallati, this is in part due to her poor health, which prevented her from standing too long at her easel, thus limiting her production. It is also a result of her unique style and taste for grandeur, which in the eyes of the critics perpetuated the common, albeit false notion that women artists only excelled at painting "the tame and the pretty."

Dodson is indeed known for her monumental paintings of either mythological or religious subjects, which she executed in the most academic manner, thus removing herself from the more modern movements at play. A Philadelphia native, she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1872 and chose to study under Christian Schussele, who also taught Thomas Eakins and Cecilia Beaux. Like many women artists in the late 19th century, she eventually decided to leave the United States, and by 1873 settled in Paris, where she trained under distinguished masters (Évariste Vital Luminais, Jules Joseph Lefebvre and Louis Maurice Boutet de Movel, respectively), competed against local artists by exhibiting at the Salon, and gradually became one of the leading American artists active in Paris at the time.

The present work was shown at the 1889 Exposition alongside the highly symbolic The Morning Stars, hereby showing Dodson's incredible range as the first work displayed a large number of figures, whereas The Meditation of the Holy Virgin only focuses on one. Here the viewer is confronted with an arresting vision of the Virgin Mary. Eyes closed and dressed in her antique blue and white attire, she sits on a white throne decorated with mosaics before which lies a row of wild lillies - Mary's own symbol and a sign of purity. The scene is set in an open landscape, captured in a palette of pale blues and soft greens. The serene, mystical atmosphere exuded by this monumental oil embodies the shift that defines Dodson’s work from the late 1880s onward. The period marks her departure from the dramatic biblical and mythological subjects that had brought her to prominence at the Paris Salon (see for example The Bacidae, 1883, Indianapolis Museum of Art, or L'Amour Ménétrier, Freeman's, Philadelphia, sale of December 8, 2019, Lot 22) to a form of latter-day Pre-Raphaelitism overlaid with an emerging tendency toward Symbolism and mysticism. Inspired by the early Renaissance masters, she infuses her figure with classical monumentality. Dodson's interest in portraying the Virgin was not new for the time. It echoed the general sentiment of "fascination with her as a symbolic figure," which many artists of the end of the nineteenth century shared, including fellow Philadelphian Henry Ossawa Tanner. Dodson herself painted the Virgin twice again later in her life (in Le Berceau, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; as well as in The Annunciation from 1906, now unlocated, but sold by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at auction through Freeman's, Philadelphia in 1950, and which was reminiscent of the art of George Hitchcock). With this stylistic shift also came a modification of her palette. Here, she discards the dark, saturated tones characteristic of her early paintings in favor of more delicate pastel hues which will continue to appear in the landscapes she produced later in her career, once fully settled in England. Despite her increasingly poor health, Dodson continued to execute large paintings, which attest to her continued pursuit of expressing the contemplative spiritual experience she first visualized in The Meditation of the Holy Virgin.

After Dodson's death, her brother, Richard Ball Dodson "attempted to achieve a measure of posthumous recognition for her" and battled to have his sister's paintings included in the collections of some of America's best museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1910-1911, he also curated an impressive series of exhibitions and sales between Brighton, London, Philadelphia and New York, featuring eighty-eight of his sister's works. Deeply representative of Dodson's mature, and celebrated style, The Meditation of the Holy Virgin was prominently featured in each of the viewings; it also served as the visual reminder of Dodson's grand ambition and taste for aesthetic and academic challenges, which she set for herself throughout her intense, yet abbreviated, career.


The canvas is entirely lined to a slate of panel, itself cradled. Framed under plexiglass. In overall fair to good condition. The paint has been beautifuly preserved, with fresh colors. The main condition issue resides in a series of vertical cracked lines, coming down from the top outer edge of the work, and onto the composition. Rather amazingly, the figure is completely intact and spared. Those lines range from 1 in. to 20 in. long, the latter running on the left handside of the figure, and stopping at the beginning of the throne she is sitting on. It is accompanied by minor losses and flakes. The other condition issue can be seen at upper center right, to the right of the figure, via 2 areas of buckled lines (one straight, one vertical), about 5 in. long each, which essentially look like air bubbles, but are not accompanied by any cracks: the paint surface itself is intact. While one is purely on the sky, the one of the far right is spreading to the top part of a nearby tree. Examination under UV light reveals an almost intact work, save for the aforementioned series of vertical cracks departing from the top outer edge (although the 20 in. long one is not entirely inpainted, only halfway through). Few minor areas of inpainting can be seen in the background at bottom right, as well as at center right in the field of lilies, close to the right outer edge edge. Some more, very localized and minor traces of inpainting in the sky at upper left corner (near the left outer edge) and at upper right quadrant (including the upper right corner itself). No evidence of remnants of varnish, which suggests the work was cleaned. See Specialist's pictures for more details.

To request additional information, including a condition report, please email Raphaël Chatroux at

Frame: 69 x 47 1/4 x 3 in.

Please note: All lots show signs of wear consistent with age and use, and the absence of a statement regarding condition issues does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from imperfections or the effects of aging.

Unless otherwise noted, all information provided is the opinion of Freeman's specialists.

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