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Study for "Divine Law"
Study for Supreme Court Room, State Capitol Building, Harrisburg

Violet Oakley, American, 1874 - 1961

Made in United States, North and Central America

c. 1917

Opaque watercolor, oil paint, gold leaf over bole, pen and black ink, and graphite on illustration board

Sheet: 20 1/2 x 20 1/2 inches (52.1 x 52.1 cm)

Research inconclusive. Copyright may apply.

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Director's Discretionary Fund, 1976

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Oakley was one of the first American women to achieve success as a muralist in the early twentieth century. This highly finished study is for the first of sixteen canvases installed around the walls of the Supreme Court Room of the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The final work, which is designed as an enlarged version of an illuminated manuscript, pictures an allegorical representation of Truth behind letters spelling "LAW."

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    By the end of the first decade of this century Violet Oakley had become the first American woman to achieve success as a mural painter, in a traditionally male field. In 1905 she won a medal for the first room that she decorated in the new Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, and in 1911 Oakley was commissioned to paint murals for two other chambers in the building. This drawing is a study for Divine Law, the first of sixteen large canvases painted for the Supreme Court Room in the Capitol between 1917 and 1927. Designed as an enlarged version of an illuminated manuscript on the historical development of law, the series represents the culmination of Oakley's social and political ideology with its celebration of the triumph of law over force. In Divine Law, behind the monumental letters spelling LAW looms the face of Truth, half-concealed, half-revealed. A committed antimodernist academic painter, Oakley spent her entire career in Philadelphia. A renewed appreciation of academic art has recently revived interest in her work, which is preserved in substantial depth in this Museum and in the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. Ann Percy, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 238.