Lilly Martin Spencer (1822–1902)

The Home of the Red, White, and Blue, c. 1867–68

Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2007.1

One of America’s leading genre painters, Lilly Martin Spencer created images of middle-class domesticity that address shifting gender roles in nineteenth-century society. She couched Home of the Red, White, and Blue, an allegory of the state of the nation following the American Civil War (1861–65), in a benign scene of outdoor family recreation. The composition focuses on the three central female figures—Spencer, dressed in white, and two of her daughters—as they enjoy the antics of an organ grinder and his monkey. Relegated to the periphery are elderly family members, a nursemaid and baby, and a wounded Union Army veteran. Spencer and her teenage daughter wear thimbles on their fingers; they have been interrupted from their task of stitching together a battered American flag, a symbol of the physical and psychic devastation the war had wrought. The painting suggests that the future of a nation ravaged by conflict lies in the capable hands of women.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.