By 1870, La Farge had moved away from his early realistic manner to a more decorative, academic style of easel painting. "The Muse of Painting" synthesizes the different and somewhat contradictory tendencies found in his work at this time. The landscape represents a site that artist painted frequently, the ridge behind Bishop Berkeley's Rock near his farm outside of Newport, Rhode Island. The figure belongs to the mainstream of nineteenth-century ideal painting, representing an allegory of the art of painting. In an odd twist, La Farge depicted the muse as an artist rather than as the inspiratrice of an artist. Her inspiration is the surrounding landscape of Newport, proving that nature is the true muse of painting. The landscape and overall composition are handled in highly decorative manner, mingling carefully observed details with dreamy, evocative colors.
Signature: [on tree trunk at upper right]: LA FARGE / 1870
Inscription: [on the back before lining]: J. La Farge / 1870 / no. 18 / Sale / April 17, 1884
Marking: [stamped on canvas on the back]: GOUPIL'S / 170 / FIFTH / N.Y.
the artist, 1870–1884; sale, Ortgies and Company, New York, 17 Apr. 1884, no. 18; Otto Weir Heinigke Sr., New York, 1884–1909; Daniel Chester French, New York, as agent, 1909; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York and Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1909