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Hegler, John Jacob Mary Alice Lyons, 1855


John Hegler was born in Bretzwil, Switzerland, and came to the United States in 1831. He worked as a miller, his father’s trade, but began portrait painting in Ohio. In 1845 he moved to Fort Wayne, and then to Lafayette in 1849, where he became the city’s first important painter. Hegler advertised himself in the Lafayette newspaper as offering “portraits from good daguerreotypes and also from corpses if called upon immediately after death.” He spent the last few years of his life in Attica, Indiana.

  • Mary Alice Lyons, ca. 1855
  • 39″ x 28″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on canvas on wood panel
  • Subjects: people, girls, dogs

The subject of this painting was the daughter of Attica physician Dr. Lewis D. Lyons. The artist was obviously using a backdrop; notice how artificial it appears, especially given the subject. Originally, Hegler had painted Mary Alice with a cat, but Dr. Lyons despised cats and told Hegler to make the animal a dog instead. Notice the detail on the girl’s dress, hair curls, neck chain, and white pantalettes. The red coloration in her feet, dress, and lips draws the viewer’s eye through the painting.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students how having a portrait made in a studio today is different from the way it was in 1855. Ask them what details a portrait painter today might choose to emphasize. (4.2.2, 4.2.3)
  • Ask students if they think Hegler was successful in transforming the cat into a dog. Why or why not? Ask: How do the little girl’s feet and arms compare to the rest of her body? (Art 4.4.2)