Aside from the brief anagraphic snippet on an infant’s monument given below, I know little about Mary L. Allen. I think I know that she was born in Ohio in 1850, that she died in 1924, and that she is buried in the mausoleum shown above, in Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. I think I know that her husband, recorded as Edward Harrison Allen below, is not in the mausoleum that bears their surname. I know nothing more about him, but I infer tentatively that they were divorced.
• CHARLIE • SON • OF •
• EDWARD • HARRISON • AND • MARY • L • ALLEN •
• AGED 3 MONTHS AND 3 DAYS •
Alas, it went not so well for Charlie. Yes, he died an infant, but I’m thinking of his misfortune at being portrayed as one of those conventional “tiny-adult” children, much older looking than a 3-month old. He looks like he’s in a bathing costume, but I presume those are meant to be contemporary swaddling clothes like a onesie. The Jim Morrison hair and the wreath are also out of tune in an infant portrait. But the pillow he rests on and the lilies at his feet dwarf him and represent an at least pro-forma effort to depict his true age by suggesting diminutive size.
So, Charlie cannot really be portrayed here; rather it’s a generic child figure. What’s interesting is that the Charlie monument sits on a stone chest which evidently holds the coffin of Mary Allen. It’s been centered, more or less, but it’s not even slightly adapted to this tomb. Is it too much to think that the Charlie monument had sat on a grave somewhere, maybe in Ohio, until it was moved to Glenwood?
But the highlight of this tomb is the full-length life-sized portrait of a young woman, who I take to be Mary Allen:
The young woman has a classicizing oval face which is particularized by high arching brows, a prominent upper lip, a shortish nose, and pouches under the eyes. The eyes look googly as always because of the combination of the poor ambient lighting and the drilled pupils. There appears to be some childhood adipose around the face. The hair is long and appears to have been pulled up in the rear (this is hard to be sure about), and the parts we see are a mass of curled locks very much in the 1900-ish mode (actually she reminds me of the teenaged Kristy McNichol of Family, so 1976-ish, too, though the chin is wrong; Farrah has too much hair!).
Her arms are bared, the sleeves rolled up, and she holds a feather pen in her right hand. The left arm, in a delicate gesture, falls just to the top of the stone chest in the mausoleum, hardly by accident. Her voluminous flowing gown, cinched at the waist, has an open neck bordered by a ring pattern. It falls way down over her feet, the toes of which—resting on a sandal—poke out on the right. The bust is understated and might, like the hair and the face, betoken youth.
Still, hers is a totally unpractical garment dragging on the ground and threatening to trip her. Its cut and collar look like some of those we see in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, though in the latter I haven’t yet seen rolled up sleeves like ours. That quill pen is out of place in the latter half of the 1800s and seems to me a deliberate anachronism. Despite nods to realism, therefore, the sculpture does have this stylistic overlay.
Who created the portrait, and for what occasion? Did Mary Allen’s parent commission it only to have it follow her through life and ultimately to the grave? Or did Allen have a portrait of his wife as a very young woman made? What I infer from all this is that she was the one who made the decision to put the female statue in the mausoleum, and that this is pretty much a guarantee it is an image of her.