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Nymph with Pipes

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Nymph with Pipes

Artist: Will Hicok Low (American, 1853-1933)

Date: 1898
Medium: Graphite and brown (crayon?) on cream-colored, medium-weight wove paper
Overall: 10 3/16 × 8 7/8in. (25.9 × 22.5cm)
Signed: Recto, lower right (graphite): "Will H. Low / 25th. January 1898"
Inscribed: Verso, center (graphite): J.[T?] M. Muth"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 93.5
Text Entries

In May 1897 Low was commissioned by the architect Henry J. Hardenbergh to paint a series of murals for the grand ballroom of the Astoria Hotel in New York City.(1)  Over the next six months he created a decorative cycle that complemented the ballroom’s function. In describing this project Low noted, “In the fourteen ovals . . . I placed figures of women, each typical of a country, with a typical musical instrument of that country.”(2)

The MWPI sheet was executed shortly after the Astoria murals, which may explain their thematic similarity. Even though the rapidly drawn foliage behind the chiton—clad model implies that it is an out-of-door scene, the month the drawing was created suggests that Low made it inside, possibly in his Bronxville studio.(3) Like many of Low’s com- positions, the figure is emphasized at the expense of the setting.(4) He had strongly held beliefs about the expressive potential of the human form and maintained that a picture’s background should be subordinate to the work’s center of interest and should be executed with a “knowledge of a reality of representation which keeps its due relation to the figure.”(5)

In the MWPI drawing, the figure’s downcast eyes and gentle smile create a mood of quiet introspection that is in keeping with the work’s Arcadian theme.(6) Its beaux-arts classicism is related to the work of a number of Low’s colleagues such as Edwin Blashfield, Kenyon Cox, Thomas Dewing, Francis D. Millet, Henry S. Mowbray, and Abbott H. Thayer. Thomas Eakins experimented with this type of subject matter as well. Each of these artists would have agreed to a greater or lesser degree with Low’s dictum, “It is the spirit of Greek art that should inspire us . . . [as] a living inspiration for the artist to-day, so elastic, so comprehensive that he may . . . use it as a vehicle of expression; speaking in his own vernacular of art, with his own accent, and with such fluency as he may possess.”(7)


1. Douglas S. Dreishpoon, “Will H. Low: American Muralist (1853-1932)" (M.A. thesis, Tufts University, February 1979), 78-84, 114 n. 28.

2. Dreishpoon, “Will H. Low,” 113 n. 23. Low‘s murals for the Astoria Hotel are mentioned by Pauline King, American Mural Painting (Boston: Noyes, Platt and Co., 1902), 246. The preparatory studies for this project were once owned by William T, Evans, who sold them in 1913. See “Clark Pays $24,000 For Two Paintings," The New York Times, April 3, 1913, 11. See also William H. Truettner, “William T. Evans, Collector Of American Paintings," The American Art Journal 3 (Fall 1971): 76.

3. Since 1896 Low's studio and residence were in Bronxville, N.Y. See Barbara B. Buff, “Bronxville: The Planned Community as Artists Colony," in The Artists of Bronxville: 1890-1930 (Yonkers, N.Y.: The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, 1989), 7-19.

4. For a discussion of the tension in the work of Low's colleagues between the figure and its environment, see William H. Gerdts, American Impressionism (Seattle: The Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, 1980), 40, 53, 85.

5. Will H. Low and Kenyon Cox, “The Nude in Art," Scribner’s Magazine 12, December 1892, 746.

6. Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition," in Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1955), 300- 303.

7. Will H. Low, “The Debt of Modern Art to Ancient Greece,” Scribner’s Magazine 67, May 1920, 640.


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