Object of the Week: Nun, by Robert Vickrey

Robert Vickrey (1926-2011) began his studies at Wesleyan University, and then transferred to Yale University, where he earned a bachelor of art’s degree in 1947. After graduating, he moved to New York City and studied with Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League, drawing influence from Marsh’s paintings of the bustling city streets. Vickrey returned to Yale a year later and spent the next two years working towards his bachelor of fine arts, which he received in 1950. At Yale, Vickrey developed his signature style, which continued for the next six decades of his career. Known as both a Realist and a Magic Realist, Vickrey painted hyper-realistic and meticulously detailed scenes infused with dreamlike components. American Magic Realism flourished in the mid-twentieth century. Instead of painting overtly supernatural scenes, which are typically associated with Surrealism, American Magic Realists painted scenes that were enchanting and mysterious with hints of the impossible. Vickrey’s paintings, in particular, contain such a high degree of precision that they have an extra otherworldly element. Dark shadows, mirror reflections, and figures whose faces turn away from the viewer also give many of Vickrey’s paintings a sense of trepidation or darkness. Early in his career, Vickrey began painting Catholic nuns belonging to the Daughters of Charity of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He was particularly fascinated by their large, architectural white headpieces, known as cornettes, and used the motif in paintings throughout his life. Vickrey noted, “I started painting them forty years ago because I was interested in the abstract shapes of the cornettes. As time went by, I realized that these figures were becoming a symbol of something that was too beautiful and fragile to exist in our modern world, with its poisoned air and polluted water.”[1] Vickrey’s nuns typically stand in front of walls, with their faces obscured by their cornettes, providing them with a clandestine sense of anonymity. Nun is currently on view in the exhibition A Look Inside the Handmaid’s Tale, through November 18, 2018.

-Kali Penoyer, Curatorial Intern & Steffi Chappell, Curatorial Assistant

Robert Vickrey, Nun, 1955, gouache on board, 18 x 24 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Bequest of Theodore Hancock, 88.41.21 [1] Quoted from Vickrey’s artist statement published in the exhibition catalog for Robert Vickrey: A Retrospective at 80. The artist statement is based on excerpts from the film Robert Vickrey: Lyrical Realist, produced in 1986