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A woman in flowing robes leans to the left, surrounded by a wavelike background of blue, white, and black.

A light-skinned, reddish-haired woman in flowing peach-white robes leans sharply to the left, bending at the knee and waist. Her right arm is bent up to stretch part of her robes over the top of her head like a hood, and her left arm is parallel to the ground, pulling the robes out behind her. Her eyes gaze upward and to the left. The woman is illuminated from above and behind by soft, warm-toned light. She stands in a formless blue, white, purple, and black-toned background reminiscent of waves or clouds.

Gallery Text

The Dawn is based on a preparatory drawing (also in Harvard’s collection) for the decoration of the New York City residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Although that composition was abandoned, it must have captivated the artist, for he returned to it almost twenty years later in this painting. Indebted to the work’s initial conception as a mural, the arching, elongated figure of Dawn has a bold, linear quality that can be easily read from across a room, while the creamy peach, purple, and turquoise tonalities are decorative without being overpowering. La Farge’s interest in light effects and color harmonies had already inspired his invention of opalescent — also known as “American” — stained glass, which the artist used in numerous commissions, including the translation of The Dawn into a window for the Brooklyn residence of philanthropist Frank Lusk Babbott in 1903.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
John La Farge, American (New York, NY 1835 - 1910 Providence, RI)
The Dawn
Other Titles
Former Title: Dawn on the Edge of Night
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2130, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Pre–Raphaelites and Their Legacy
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
79.1 x 85.1 cm (31 1/8 x 33 1/2 in.)
frame: 93.4 x 98.4 x 5.1 cm (36 3/4 x 38 3/4 x 2 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Consigned by the artist to [Doll and Richards, Boston, MA, 1900], sold; to Mrs. Roland C. Lincoln, 1900, sold [through her sale, American Art Association, New York, 1920, no. 57]; to [Scott & Fowles, New York], sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop, New York, NY, 1930s, gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1939.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Grenville L. Winthrop, Class of 1886
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art


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Publication History

  • Cecilia Waern, John La Farge, Artist and Writer (London and New York, 1896), pp. 43-44
  • Josephine L. Allen, "Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge", The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, April 1936), vol. XXXI, no. 4, pp. 74-78, p. 77
  • Royal Cortissoz, "John La Farge and his Original Traits", New York Herald Tribune (New York, NY, March 29, 1936), section V, p. 10, p. 10
  • Ann Hamilton Sayre, "The Complete Work of John La Farge at the Metropolitan", Art News (March 28, 1936), pp. 5-6, 12, pp. 5-6, 10
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, An Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge, exh. cat., Blanchard Press, Inc. (New York, NY, 1936), no. 24, reproduced
  • "Gift of Grenville L. Winthrop, Class of 1886", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum, ed. Edward Waldo Forbes, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, 1939), vol. 9, no. 1, November, p. 19, p. 19
  • Stephan Wolohojian, ed., A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (U.S.) (New York, 2003), pp. 457-58, cat. 206, ill.
  • Stephan Wolohojian, Ingres, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Renoir... La Collection Grenville L. Winthrop, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 2003), pp. 471-72, cat. 206, ill.
  • Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press (U.S.) (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 206, cat. no. 158, reproduced in color
  • James L. Yarnall, John La Farge, A Biographical and Critical Study, Ashgate Publishing (Burlington, VT, 2012), pp. xiii, 220-221, repr. p. 220 as fig. 8.9
  • Dreaming in Glass: Masterworks by Tiffany and La Farge, auct. cat., Sotheby's, New York (New York, December 12, 2018), p. 65, repr. p. 65

Exhibition History

  • Unidentified Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, 1899, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 01/01/1899 - 12/31/1899
  • Unidentified Exhibition, Cincinnati Art Museum, 1921, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, 01/01/1921 - 12/31/1921
  • An Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 03/23/1936 - 04/26/1936
  • A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, National Gallery, London, 06/25/2003 - 09/14/2003; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 10/23/2003 - 01/25/2004
  • For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004
  • 32Q: 2130 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights
  • Google Art Project

Related Works

Verification Level

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