Wayside Madonna

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Wayside Madonna is an oil painting on canvas by Edith Catlin Phelps. It was painted around 1939. Painted in southern California, it is a genre painting that is part of the regionalism movement but also has a religious subject. This painting is currently part of the permanent collection at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California. Phelps's oil painting Wayside Madonna ultimately focuses on the lady in the foreground, providing a narrative about southern California culture, and places an emphasis on the need for a more American focus and style of painting that does not rely so heavily on European art. The painting is organized simply. The background of the painting is painted in an Impressionist style. The blurring of edges, however, starkly …show more content…
However, the desert scene and mountains suggest that this was painted in Southern California. In the background, one can see a man leading a pack animal, a woman, and an infant along a road towards the church, identified by the cross on the rooftop. There are no shadows to define form in the background. This is, again, a contrast to the shadows made by the Madonna in the foreground. The lack of shadows, however, does not make the background look flat. The Impressionist styled painting and the lack of detail in the background creates a distant look that gives depth to the painting. The numerous contrasts between the background and the foreground allows the artist to subtly draw the viewer?fs attention towards the foreground. These contrasts help grab the viewer?fs gaze and direct it to the most important part of the painting: the woman and baby. Wayside Madonna has some clear iconography. The woman dominating the foreground is a direct allusion to the Virgin Mary. Seated and holding a sleeping male baby in her arms, a violet robe drapes over the figure. The woman wears a simple white outfit and adoringly looks down towards the baby. This depiction is very similar to the common depiction of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in religious European art. An important difference between the European religious Virgin Mary and Wayside Madonna is the skin color. The Virgin Mary in European art is often painted as white skinned.

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