The Ghost Story

The Ghost Story


Walter MacEwen

(American, 1860-1943)

Oil on canvas

Unframed: 121 x 191.5 cm (47 5/8 x 75 3/8 in.)

Gift of Mrs. Edward S. Harkness 1923.416


On view at:

Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY
Oct 7, 2021 - Jan 2, 2022


This picture depicts a prosperous peasant's dwelling, where the women of the house have gathered to spin and prepare food. McEwen showed the narration of a ghost story at its most dramatic moment—all eyes are fixed on the storyteller, the spinning wheels are idle, the listeners lean toward her in fascination, and the little girl clutches her doll in fear. When this work was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1888 and at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, it won praise for both its technical approach and for capturing the essential qualities of the Dutch people. Walter McEwen settled in Holland around 1883, setting up a studio in the village of Hattem. At this time, Holland had a growing reputation among foreign artists, and a large number of American painters had moved there in order to observe local customs, scenery, and costumes, and to study 17th-century Dutch painting. Many of these Americans looked to the work of the German painters in Holland and mimicked their brighter palette, clear forms, and bright interiors, which were often achieved by painting a scene in front of a window, as McEwen did here.

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