For this day of remembrance, a poignant painting by a relatively unknown painter memorializing an author who was a celebrity in his day but is not quite so celebrated now.

Stevenson Memorial, Abbott Handerson Thayer. Smithsonian American Art Museum

This painting is a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by the New England painter Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921). Like many of Thayer’s paintings after a certain time in his life, a time in which he lost 2 young children and his wife in succession, it is a testament to both a public loss and a personal one. About the only reference to Stevenson here are the letters VAEA, which spell out the place on Samoa where he is buried, while the angel (and her face) appear in several of Thayer’s paintings over his career. The natural death of one author over a century ago and the sudden, collective loss of a decade ago have little in common, but it is this mixture of public and personal grief that I associate with the commemoration of the events of September 11, 2011.

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