"Mermaid and Her Lover" Engine Panel Painting

"Mermaid and Her Lover" Engine Panel Painting

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In the nineteenth century, volunteer fire companies often commissioned paintings to decorate their hand-pumped fire engines for parades, competitions, and community events. Sometimes framed with elaborate carvings, they adorned the tall air chamber located at the middle or rear of a pumper. The paintings would often feature patriotic, heroic, or allegorical images to associate the volunteer companies with these lofty ideals.
The Weccacoe Fire Engine Company No.19 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania commissioned this panel from John Woodside around 1840. The Weccacoe Fire Company was organized in 1800 as a hand engine company. It acquired a steam fire engine in 1859, which was replaced in 1864. It operated as a steam fire engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. This painting of the “Mermaid and Her Lover,” is likely a representation of the tale of Clytia the water nymph and her love for the god Apollo. Fire companies used neoclassical imagery to link their companies to the ancient ideals that the paintings depicted, in this case eternal love and loyalty. The use of neoclassical images also allowed artists to paint an idealized nude female form that would make their beloved engine especially eye-catching during parades.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, engine panel
date made
ca 1840
Woodside, John Archibald
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
overall: 28 in x 17 1/4 in x 2 1/2 in; 71.12 cm x 43.815 cm x 6.35 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Engine Panel Paintings
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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