Joseph T. Pearson, Jr. (American), (1876 – 1951), The Twins: Virginia and Jane, 1917, Oil on canvas, H. 60 x W. 72 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum, Gift of Oliver Pearson.
This painting is recognized as Joseph Pearson’s greatest work. It was painted in his home in Germantown, Pennsylvania. In this unique portrait, Pearson shows his twins, Virginia and Jane. They are standing on a brown surface with a table between them. Behind them is a bright cobalt blue surface. This painting is huge – so that the surface may be as large as a real wall in your home. What could this blue background be? The sky? Wallpaper? This painting is the second version he created of his daughters; the first one was completed a year earlier. Notice that Pearson signed the painting in the lower left with the letter “P”.
About the Artist
Joseph Thurman Pearson was a versatile artist skilled in the creation of still life, landscape painting and portraiture. Like his contemporary associate, Daniel Garber, Pearson’s strongest portraiture work is of his family. He executed early portraits of his wife and mother, and accomplished later portraits of his daughters. His early exhibition work featured portraits, but his first round of critically acclaimed success reflected Pearson’s interest in landscapes and the outdoors. For this portrait, Pearson won the Beck Medal for outstanding portraiture at the Pennsylvania Academy Annual Exhibition in 1917, and the Potter Palmer Award at the Chicago Art Institute Annual of 1918. This painting was also exhibited and won a gold medal at the 1926 Pennsylvania Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the same year that featured Daniel Garber’s A Wooded Watershed.
For complete information on this artist, download our curriculum guide.
- What do you see in this painting? Describe its details.
- What do you notice about the foreground, middleground and background?
- Is this scene taking place inside or outside? Explain.
- Do you think the artist knew these girls? Why or why not?
- What else do you find unusual about this painting?
- How do you think the girls feel? Why do you say that?
- If the twins could talk, what might they say?
- Is there anything you find appealing and unappealing about this work of art? Explain.
- How does this painting make you feel? Why?
- Do the twins in this work of art look identical? Many viewers see them as two very different children. Create a self-portrait in the art medium of your choice, depicting yourself as twins. What can you do to the faces and figures in your work to show that the “twins” have different personalities?
- Twins are everywhere! Study the population of your school by doing a census about twins. How many twins attend your school? How many are male, and how many are female? How many students and teachers have twins in their families? Display your findings on a chart or graph.
- The cultural exchange of East and West can be strongly seen in the work of artists like Daniel Garber, the American and French Impressionists, and in The Twins. What elements of this painting convey these influences? Discuss them with a friend or family member.
- When Joseph Pearson died in 1951, the family decided to keep his studio in tact in his memory. He did not write about his paintings, so all we know about his ideas and symbolism is either through stories told by family members or informed guesses we make as art historians. This type of history is called oral history. Create an oral history about a neighbor, friend or family member. Record your findings. Transcribe them into a written document. Share your findings with your class in an oral presentation or video.
Exploring the Natural World
- In the blue background of this painting you will notice several birds. They appear to be robins because of their brown feathers, golden beak and reddish‐orange breasts. There are many different species of birds living in Pennsylvania. Create a two or three‐dimensional visual display that teaches your classmates about the birds in Pennsylvania. You may also want to create a similar project about birds in another part of the world.
Strike a Pose
- Joseph Pearson’s twins posed for this painting and most likely stood very still for long periods of time. Can you stand still for a long period of time? Try it! Have a friend or a family member draw your portrait. How long can you sit or stand until you need to move?
Find more related activities in the curriculum guide.
- Activity Sheet: Portrait Personalities (424KB.pdf)
- Activity Sheet: Finding a Friend (432KB,.pdf)
- Previous Post: Five Writing Activities
- Teaching Poster: The Twins: Virginia and Jane (197KB,.pdf)
- The Twins: Virginia and Jane on the Google Arts and Culture
- Youth Audio Tour: The Twins: Virginia and Jane
- Resource Library Magazine: Joseph Pearson
- Online Exhibition, The Painterly Voice: Joseph Pearson