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The Cover
July 23 2008

Still Life With Watermelon, Pears, and Grapes

JAMA. 2008;300(4):368. doi:10.1001/jama.300.4.368

She was one of the most beloved as well as one of the most prolific painters of mid-19th century America. She did portraits, still life, and genre and aspired to history painting. Her model was no less than Michelangelo. Today she is remembered primarily for her domestic scenes, especially those that pictured women and children, and for her humor. (One of the more well known of these is Shake Hands? in which the cook, up to her elbows kneading bread, extends a flour-covered hand to an unseen newcomer, presumably the viewer, to her kitchen.) She was also a wife and a mother, a breadwinner, and an entrepreneur. Married at 22 to Benjamin Rush Spencer, Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902) bore 13 children, seven of whom survived childhood. While she painted and developed new business, her husband managed the household. Their existence was often hand-to-mouth; they had household help—or not—depending upon Lilly's income at that time.

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