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St. James Episcopal Church

Upper Montclair, NJ

Altarpiece

Fishers of Men, 1943

Commissioned by: Francis A. NelsonIconographer: Hildreth MeièreMedium: oil and gilt on wood panelExecuted by: Hildreth MeièreAdditional fabricators: Louis Ross, gilding

Fishers of Men in place

Fishers of Men in place

Hildreth Meière’s commission from architect Francis A. Nelson to paint an altarpiece for St. James’ Church led to a lively debate between Meière and members of the church’s Building Committee. Committee members wanted Meière to paint Christ and the Children as the subject for their new wooden altarpiece. Meière told the committee that she worried about the sentimentality of treating such a subject. She preferred instead to paint Fishers of Men.1 The committee asked Meière to sketch both subjects so that they could choose:

Sketch for Christ and the Children in gouache on tracing paper

Sketch for Christ and the Children in gouache on tracing paper

Sketch for Fishers of Men in gouache on tracing paper

Sketch for Fishers of Men in gouache on tracing paper

Having seen both sketches, the vestry agreed to go along with Meière’s suggestion and chose Fishers of Men as the theme.2

Meière had understood that the Committee “wanted foreground figures with a deep landscape background, which would tend to open up the reredos and lead the eye and the imagination into the distance.”3 Nelson, the architect, disagreed and wrote to Meière that he did not want her to produce a window effect of “looking through the woodwork as though it were an open window.” He felt “it would nullify the function of the reredos, which is primarily a backing to the altar.” He therefore wanted Meière’s painting to be “more a decorative panel rather than a picture.”4

The committee and rector, Orrin F. Judd, approved Meière’s final design with a few suggestions, the most important of which concerned “the size of the head and face of Christ, so that if possible, greater strength may be indicated.”5

Detail of finished altarpiece with decorative gold leaf ground

Detail of finished altarpiece with decorative gold leaf ground

1

Alonzo F. Bonsal, letter to Hildreth Meière, June 16, 1943, Hildreth Meière Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

2

Bonsal, letter to Meière, July 29, 1943, HM Papers.

3

Meière to Bonsal, June 7, 1943, HM Papers.

4

Francis A. Nelson to Meière, August 16, 1943, HM Papers.

5

Orrin F. Judd, letter to Meière, October 19, 1943, HM Papers.

Additional Resources

Commission Location

Emblem

St. James Episcopal Church
581 Valley Road
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

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