The Frugal Meal

Artist: Rose Hartwell
The Frugal Meal, a painting

Rose Hartwell, The Frugal Meal, 1903, oil on canvas, 79 1/8 x 63 1/4 inches, Brigham Young University Museum of Art.

Commentary by Dawn Pheysey
Curator of Religious Art

Born about fifteen years after the first pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, Rose Hartwell was caught in the building tensions over polygamy that tore her family apart. After her father took a second wife, Rose’s mother took her ten children and left the Church. In her early twenties, Rose began studying art under two well-established Utah artists, J.T. Harwood and J. Willard Clawson. With their encouragement, she traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, a progressive art school that was the first to enroll female students. After a trip to Italy, she returned to Paris and in 1903, entered her first painting in the Paris Salon.

Although she rejected the Mormon faith, her paintings reflect the religion’s emphasis on family and domesticity. Hartwell did not marry until 1914 and never had any children of her own. Perhaps this 1903 painting of a humble family sharing a meal together suggests her longing for familial unity and love. The quiet majesty of the mother who serves her family unselfishly is epitomized by this work, as the woman stands strong and calm in providing for her family. The food, though simple and frugal, is plentiful and wholesome just as the love radiating from the mother is abundant and pure. The space at the table seems to indicate that there is room for the viewer in this peaceful scene of an intimate family moment.

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