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Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James

New Haven, CT

Lady Chapel altarpiece

Annunciation; Nativity; Presentation in the Temple, 1927

Commissioned by: Wilfrid Edward AnthonyMedium: oil and gold leaf on wood panelExecuted by: Hildreth MeièreAdditional fabricators: Frank Humrich, gilding; William F. Ross & Co., woodwork

Chapel at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James

Chapel at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James

Hildreth Meière’s commission to design an altarpiece for the Lady Chapel at St. Paul’s Church in New Haven came indirectly because of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. The architect who hired Meière, Wilfred Edwards Anthony, had been involved in the design and construction of the chapel at St. Paul’s Church while a member of Goodhue’s architectural firm in 1910. Anthony, who completed the final plan for the church following Goodhue’s premature death in 1924, was familiar with Meière’s decorative work because she was Goodhue’s painter. Goodhue had chosen her to decorate his National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, St. Mark’s Church in Mount Kisco, New York, and his Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. It seemed natural, therefore, for Anthony to turn to Meière to design the New Haven altarpiece.1

There was one problem, however. In order to be able to afford Meière, Bishop James deWolf Perry, Jr., former rector of St. Paul’s Church, needed to ask the current rector, the Reverend Elmore M. McKee, to request that the donor, Miss Elizabeth Hotchkiss, increase her donation:

If Miss Hotchkiss will increase her gift sufficiently to engage Miss Meière for the work of painting, I should think that it would be unquestionably the advisable thing to make this choice. Miss Meière’s work is [so] markedly spiritual in its feeling and fine in its execution that I should feel no doubt about the result.2

The rector followed Bishop Perry’s advice. Miss Hotchkiss increased her donation, and Meière received the commission.

On the central scene of the triptych, Meière painted the Nativity, with two angels above the Holy Family holding the guiding star and chanting Gloria in Excelsis Deo. On the left panel, Meière depicted the Annunciation; on the right, the Presentation in the Temple.

On left: Annunciation; in center: Nativity; on right: Presentation in the Temple

On left: Annunciation; in center: Nativity; on right: Presentation in the Temple

The gilding of the three panels was executed by Frank R. Humrich, who had been Goodhue’s gilder and with whom Meière had worked on her first religious commission at St. Mark’s Church in Mount Kisco four years earlier. Humrich submitted an estimate for his work at St. Paul’s Church in a letter to Meière that described the process involved:

We herewith submit our estimate to properly prepare with gesso and bole, leafgild the entire surface, burnishing such parts as indicated on tracings to be furnished us. Star and rays on centre panel to be in gesso relief. Estimate includes tooling, stamping, lacquering and toning, for the sum of 385.00 (three hundred and eighty-five dollars).3

A publication by St. Paul’s Church in conjunction with the dedication of the altarpiece on July 13, 1927, called Meière’s triptych “the crowning feature of the Chapel.” It described Meière as having

no peer in the field of religious painting in this country. She is distinguished for the beauty, poetry and devotional character of her pictures, and it was a great satisfaction to all concerned to be able to have her valuable services in this fine memorial.4

Following the blessing of the altarpiece, Anthony wrote a personal letter to Meière, who was in Paris: “All I can say is that it is simply masterful and superbly beautiful in place.” He also told her

Miss Hotchkiss, the donor, was visibly affected when she beheld it, and it affords universal satisfaction and pleasure.5
1

“The Triptych in the chapel of St. Paul’s Church, New Haven, Connecticut,” (New Haven: St. Paul’s Church, 1927), no p.

2

Bishop James deWolf Perry, Jr., letter to the Rev. Elmore M. McKee, November 4, 1926, Hildreth Meière Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

3

Letter from Frank R. Humrich to Meière, January 26, 1927, HM Papers.

4

“The Triptych in the chapel of St. Paul’s Church,” no p.

5

Letter from Wilfrid Edwards Anthony to Meière, July 13, 1927, HM Papers.

Commission Location

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Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James
57 Olive Street
New Haven, CT 06511

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