The Witch’s Daughter, 1881

Here is something for our blue-moon New Year’s Eve: “The Witch’s Daughter” by Frederick Stuart Church (1842–1924), engraved by J. P. Davys. This lithograph was published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine [New York], vol. 67, issue 398 (July 1883), p. [164].

When the original sketch of this composition sold by Argosy gallery, New York, at Christie’s in 1990 it was “accompanied by an etching of the same subject which is signed F. S. Church and dated 1881 in the plate.” So my Harper’s lithograph is, in fact, a reprint of the original etching, which was based on a sketch.

The original sketch is described as “signed F. S. Church, [lower right], signed again and inscribed with title and copyright, [lower left]—pencil, pen and black ink on board 13 3/8 x 9 in. [33.2 x 22.8 cm.]” Unfortunately, I have been unable to discover how much it sold for.

According to The New York Times (Sunday, 1 April 1906), p. 7, a painting of “The Witch’s Daughter” was part of the Evan’s Collection in 1906: “The Evans Collection: Exhibition of American Paintings at the Lotos Club”:

The Chairman of the Committee on Art of the Lotos Club has had a congenial task, this time, of arranging an exhibition of pictures from his own collection at Monclair, N.J. … There are in the collection of Mr. W. T. Evans ninety canvases, all by American painters. … Among the figure pieces of note are … and ‘The Witch’s Daughter,’ by F. S. Church, has lured a snow white dove to her hand.

Three years later, on 10 March 1907, Evans donated forty paintings to the National Gallery. Perhaps this painting was among them. If so, I have been unable to find any trace of it after 1906.

If you haven’t seen this image before—like my lithograph of an etching of a sketch of a painting—here is a passage in an article from the Illustrated Weekly Magazine from The New York Times (Wednesday, 19 September 1897):

The Studio of F.S. Church

One of the earliest of Mr. Church’s works to attract widespread public attention was ‘The Witch’s Daughter,’ which is familiar in every American Household through numberless reproductions, and which depicted a dainty maiden clad in flowing, clinging draperies, seaten on the new moon’s silver cresent, conversing with a blinking owl, against a background of flying clouds.”

Note: “every American Household.” So, if you are American and you haven’t seen it there is clearly something wrong with your “Household.” And, note to self, “numberless reproductions.” Why did it take me three years to get one?

Anyway, a final tit-bit for you, in Chapter 6 of her book Famous Pets of Famous People (Boston: D. Lothrop, [1892]), p. 162, Eleanor Lewis writes:

A well-known artist in New York, Mr. F. S. Church, makes frequent and delightful studies of animals and birds although not so much for their own sake, perhaps, as for that of some thought to which they are the fit accessories. Now it is a maiden wandering in desert places, alone, save for the savage beasts her innocence has tamed … there a witch’s daughter in mystic converse with an owl.

Note: owl in “mystic converse.”

Note also: Chapter 7 of this book is titled “Pussy in Private Life.” Really.

3 Responses to “The Witch’s Daughter, 1881”

  1. Oh, what a beautiful illustration for our Full Moon New Year. I find this image poignant and hopeful, with the wisdom of the owl and the eternal strength of woman. Life blooms in each carved furrow, each raised line. Thank you for this on the cusp of a new decade.

  2. Love the concept:witch’s daughter. Blue Moon New Year,too. Nicely said. wasn’t it just?

  3. This is a wood engraving, not a lithograph. It was engraved by J.P. Davis from a B&W photo of the original painting printed on the wood blocks. This engraving has no connection with the etching, that was a completely separate work by Church. The original painting is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (#1929.6.18), a gift of John Gellatly who had purchased it from the Evans sale.. A full color reproduction of the painting is included in Frederick Stuart Church: A Brush with Imagination. If you like this image you will also enjoy Church’s The Snow Witch’s Daughter published in Harper’s Bazar, Dec. 23, 1882.

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