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Thomas Waterman Wood - On Guard

Thomas Waterman Wood (1823-1903), American
On Guard, 1874
OIL ON CANVAS, 15 ½ x 19 ½ inches
Gift of Horace Fairbanks

A notable attribute of Vermont-native Thomas Waterman Wood's scenes of everyday life is their leg­ibility. As one contemporary critic characterized the artist's appeal, "he secures attention by the directness of his story." In that respect, On Guard is typical. A baby sleeps quietly and peacefully in its cradle under the protection of the family dog. The empty rocking chair symbolizes an absent parent in whose place the dog keeps watch. Despite the warm, glowing embers of the hearth and the dog's presence, however, questions arise that unsettle the serenity of Woods composition: where has the baby's parent gone, and why is the dog awake and scowling? In the midst of a seemingly simple and reassuring narrative, the artist has introduced disqui­eting allusions that are not easily dismissed in the context of Reconstruction.