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The Prodigal Son

Probably 1830-1835
Origin: America, Massachusetts, Westport Point area
Primary Support: 18 3/4 x 22 11/16in. (47.6 x 57.6cm) and Framed: 24 5/16 x 32 5/16in.
Watercolor, gouache, and ink on wove paper
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1936.301.1
Three bands of horizontal script appear over three rows of individual scenes (script reads horizontally across entire sheet in top two bands, but the lower band is broken into 4 blocks, and all lines within each must be read before proceeding to the next block. Illustrations must be "read" clockwise beginning at center top, continuing around perimeter, and ending in central block to follow chronology of Biblical text. Episodes depicted are, from left to right and top to bottom, slaughter of fatted calf, house with father sending off prodigal son, who holds horse by the reins, with elder son seated behind father; father talking to elder son and a servant following prodigal's return; celebration (dancing and music) following prodigal's return; reveling with harlots (in this case, one woman); a cornfield; prodigal son reclaimed by father; prodigal son in misery with three swine; and gambling.

The 2 1/4-inch splayed mahogany frame with a flat outer edge is possibly original.
Label:Illustrations of the story of the prodigal son were widely circulated in America from the late 1700s through the early 1800s. However, the linear format of this piece reveals the artist's originality (and predates the similarly-formatted comic strip by decades).

Ruby Devol Finch also provided intriguing glimpses of nineteenth-century American domestic life by updating the biblical story to a semblance of her own surroundings via costumes, props, and activities. The dance depicted at the center seems to be an Irish jig, a forerunner of the clog step used by modern American square dancers.
Provenance:Sallie H. Andrews, Ashaway, RI; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, by whom given to CWF.
Mark(s):A watermark at UR reads "J Whatman/Turkey Mill/1830."
Inscription(s):A penciled inscription on the reverse reads "I am 115 years old 1896/ and was painted by Ruby Devoll". Running horizontally on the obverse in three bands of inked, script lines is the following: "Luke chapt, 15. 11 verse There was a man that had two Sons veres [sic] 12 And the younger of them said to his Father Father give me the portion of goods/ that falleth to me and he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days the younger son gathered all together and took his journy [sic]/ into a far country and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 and when he had spent all there arose a mighty/ Famine in that land and he began to be in want 15th And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16th. And he fain would/ have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat and no man gave unto unto [sic] him. 17th And when he came to himself he said how many hired servants of my Fathers have bread/ enough and to spare and I perish with hunger 18th I will arise and go unto my Father and will say unto him Father I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight and am no more/ worthy to be called thy son make me as one of thy hired Servants 19th And he arose and came to his Father but when he was yet a great way off his Father saw him and had compassion and ran/ and fell on his neck and Kisse [sic] him 21st And the son said unto him Father I have sinned against/ heaven and in thy sight and am no more worthy/ to be called thy son 22d But the Father said to his servant bring forth the best robe an [sic] put it/ on him and put a ring on his hand and/ shoes on his feet. 23 and bring hither the fat[t]ed/ calf and kill it and let us eat and make/ merry 24th For this my son was dead and is alive again he was lost and is found and/ is found [sic] and they began to be merry 25th now his eldest son was in the field and as he came and/ drew near to the house he heard music and dan/ -cing 26th and he called one of his servants and/ asked what these things meant. 27th And he/ said unto him thy brother is come and thy Father/ hath killed the fatted calf because he hath recievd [sic]/ him safe and sound. 28th and he was angry/ and would not go in therefore came his Father/ out and entreated him."