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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Leda and the Swan

Photo: Paul Macapia

Leda and the Swan

probably after 1915 and before 1923

John Covert

Born Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1882; died Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1960

Homer's Odyssey tells of the beautiful Leda, wife of the king of Sparta, so desired by Zeus that he transformed himself into a beautiful swan and seduced her. This highly charged subject became a favorite theme of artists, especially in the period following the rise of Sigmund Freud, when many openly addressed sexual fantasy. Although Covert's image is not initially erotic, viewers familiar with the artist's source in classical literature will appreciate the spare, highly abstract, visual pun.

Oil on canvas
27 1/2 x 21 1/2 in. (69.9 x 54.6 cm)
Gift of Paul Denby Mackie in memory of Kathleen Lawler and Nona Lawler Mackie
Provenance: The artist to Kathleen Lawler (1881-1952), probably 1923; by bequest to her sister, Nona Lawler Mackie, Bellevue, Washington, 1952; by bequest to her husband, Paul Denby Mackie, Bellevue, Washington; to SAM, 1959
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryIn chronological order:

Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, American Genius in Review, No. 1, May 11-June 19, 1960. Text by Douglas MacAgy. Cat. no. 16.

Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, John Covert, 1882-1960, Sept. 16-Nov. 14, 1976. Cat. no. 9, p. 32, reproduced p. 33.

University Park, Pennsylvania, Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, "John Covert Rediscovered", Feb. 11-Apr. 20, 2003 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, The Demuth Foundation, Aug.1-Sept. 21, 2003; Annville, Pennsylvania, Lebanon Valley College, Suzanne H. Arnold Art Gallery, Aug. 28-Oct.12, 2003). Text by Leo G. Mazow and Michael R. Taylor. Cat. no. 9, pp. 9, 13, 29, 42, reproduced p. 43.

Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Modern in America, July 8, 2004-Feb. 27, 2005. No catalogue.

Published ReferencesAskew, Rual. "Bypassed Artists to Gain Fresh Study," The Dallas Morning News, April 26, 1960: Section 1, p. 12.

Askew, Rual. "Mementos Current and From Recall," The Dallas Morning News, May 15, 1960: Section 5, p. 4.

Klein, Michael. "John Covert and the Arensberg Circle: Symbolism, Cubism, and Protosurrealism," Arts Magazine 51, no. 9 (May 1977): pp. 113-115, reproduced p. 113, fig. 3.

Mazow, Leo G., "John Covert, Tetraphilia, and the Game of Time" Winterthur Portfolio 41, no. 1 (2007): p. 33, reproduced fig. 12.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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