July 31 is Harry Potter’s (and author J.K. Rowling’s) birthday! In honor of their birthday, Sally Ball, Crystal Bridges’ school program manager, and Erica Harmon, copywriter, have subjectively sorted some of the artworks found in Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection into Hogwarts houses based on their subjects and authors. Hogwarts Castle has a magnificent art collection of its own in which the characters are able to move and talk. So whether you are a Witch, Wizard, Muggle, or Squib, Crystal Bridges welcomes you to come and view our works of art through the lens of Harry Potter.
As every Harry Potter fan knows, when first years arrive at Hogwarts Castle they must be sorted into one of the four houses, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Scroll down to find which artworks at Crystal Bridges would be hanging–and coming to life–on the walls next to your Hogwarts house!
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart.
Sally: When I think of the qualities that Godric Gryffindor valued in his chosen students I can’t help but think that George Washington would have fit well in his house. Washington’s achievements during the American Revolution certainly confirm that he was brave and daring, and agreeing to be the first president of the United States was pretty daring, too.
Erica: If George Washington is the Albus Dumbledore of the Gryffindor paintings, Rosie is the Minerva McGonagall. This fierce portrait of Rosie as a working woman during World War II is defiant, strong, and unafraid of its enemy. Just as Harry, Neville, and countless others in the Gryffindor house rallied the troops to defeat Voldemort and his minions, so did Rosie’s portrait shine a light on the courageous work women led as part of the war effort.
Erica: Beyond the reigning quality of courage, Gryffindor house also emphasizes traits such as “daring,” and “nerve,” sometimes to the point of recklessness (*cough cough* HARRY). I like to think that the students of Gryffindor house would have this painting hanging up in a prominent space that they pass every day, such as the common room or close to the Fat Lady, as a symbol of daring and nerve in the face of danger, but also as a reminder to look beyond what you think you know.
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil.
Sally: I would sort John Frederick Peto into Hufflepuff. If we look back to the Sorting Song, we can see that Helga Hufflepuff valued students who were just and loyal. In the biography of Peto from the Phillips Collection, we know that Peto devoted his life to his family, which bears out that he was a loyal person. I would also cite his still-lifes as evidence for him being unafraid of toil. To work in a trompe l’oeil style trying to render every object in a manner to fool the eye definitely requires hard work.
Erica: For me, there’s nothing that defines Hufflepuff more than an image of people helping others to reach a larger goal. And in no other artwork at Crystal Bridges is that more prevalent than in The Lantern Bearers. I like to think of each of these little Hufflepuff clowns putting up the lanterns to light the way to their dorm room. The glow of the lanterns even matches their house color!
Erica: There’s something about the spirit of this painting that makes me believe it would hang in the Hufflepuff common room. For a house that’s known for its dedication, patience, kindness, and loyalty, Hufflepuffs remember what is truly important in life, and sometimes the most important thing is to enjoy it. I imagine that dancing in the corridors or out on the grounds is exactly where you’d find a group of Hufflepuff students after a hard day’s work.
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind.
Sally: Professor Benjamin Howard Rand is my pick for Ravenclaw. Hogwarts co-founder, Rowena Ravenclaw, chose students of learning who had a “ready mind.” Professor Rand was a chemistry professor and author of many publications including, Outline of Medical Chemistry for the Use of Students (1855) and Elements of Medical Chemistry (1867), which were the most important.
Erica: Ravenclaws are deep thinkers, and usually quite introspective. This painting features a chimpanzee pondering the theory of evolution. I’m not sure how much more introspective you can get! Artist James Henry Beard purposefully included important texts in his painting such as Charles Darwin’s 1871 Descent of Man and Pythagoras’s Theory of Metampsychosis, which concerns the transmigration of souls to new bodies. He did this in an effort for his viewers to ponder theories of evolution. This chimpanzee would be sitting right between the most intelligent students of the Ravenclaw house, helping them with their homework and asking them to consider large, introspective questions.
Erica: One of the most beautiful traits of a Ravenclaw is their ability to see what most people miss. Think of Luna Lovegood and her ability to see Nargles and Thestrals. Artist Faith Ringgold used her creativity to take the concept of a traditional American craft and turn it into something new that was also an homage of author, poet, activist, and intellect, Maya Angelou. Ravenclaws can also never resist reading, and having excerpts of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings around the edges makes this artwork a perfect companion in the Ravenclaw common room.
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.
Sally: Mrs. Theodore Atkinson Jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth) is my pick for Slytherin. I think she earns a place in this house because she wanted to marry her cousin, John Wentworth and was not about to let the social conventions of the day stand in her way.
Erica: Jessica Penn is a fascinating character that, I think, would be a role model of the Slytherin house. In this painting, she has an unapologetic stare and confident attitude. In real life, Penn was a Broadway actress and model. This painting was created just a few years after her Broadway debut in 1901. It is said that Penn told artist Robert Henri that “she intended to become the greatest dancer in the world.” Slytherins go after what they want with full force, just like Penn did in her lifetime.
Sally: I find Alexander Hamilton particularly difficult to sort. Because of his daring and bravery in the American Revolution, Hamilton is a good candidate for Gryffindor. But then again, George Washington valued Hamilton for his intelligence and writing abilities, and when you read his contributions to the Federalist Papers, there is no denying that he would have held his own in Ravenclaw. Of course given his preoccupation with his legacy, perhaps one could make a case for Slytherin…
Erica: I’m making a case for Slytherin. In all the choices he made in his lifetime, Alexander Hamilton never once looked back. His middle name might as well have been “ambition.” He pursued his goals at all costs, sacrificing his personal life for the sake of his work and the creation of the new American government. He even went so far as to print his affair in a pamphlet and publicly embarrass his wife in order to douse rumors of embezzlement and keep his agenda on track. He also looked out for his own (an important Slytherin trait), strongly defending George Washington and his troops during the war and in office, and was primarily responsible for the creation of the Federalist Party, rallying like-minded individuals behind a similar set of beliefs to push political success forward. In the midst of all that ambition, however, is something of a cautionary tale to Slytherin students: sometimes you are the thing that gets in the way of yourself.
Once students have been sorted they begin attending various classes such as Charms, Transfiguration, and Defense Against the Dark Arts, each of which focus on some aspect of magic or spell work. As you walk through the galleries at Crystal Bridges sorting the portraits, see if you can also find evidence of spell work in our collection.
Erica: I feel like School Rules is a perfect example of a Transfiguration class gone terribly wrong. Neville probably accidentally transfigured the entire class, including the professor, and then everyone broke out into a fight. Now, as they all wait for Madam Pomfrey to come to the classroom with a remedy potion, they are awaiting their punishment (a night in the Forbidden Forest, perhaps?).
Sally: I find Supine Woman by Wayne Thiebaud to be an excellent example of the Full-Body-Bind curse, which uses the incantation Petrificus Totalus.
Erica: I think Maman could possibly be a descendant of Aragog…
Now that you know the qualities you are looking for, why not try your hand at being the Sorting Hat? Imagine that you are in Hogwarts Castle as you view the art galleries at Crystal Bridges. In them, you will find several paintings that feature people. What would the characters in these paintings say to you as you are looking at them? What would their stories be? Can you find a work of art that you think would be a good guardian for your favorite house’s common room? Using the visual evidence you see in the portraits and perhaps your prior knowledge, sort them into their houses the next time you visit Crystal Bridges.
I hope these suggestions will help you as you embark on a magical adventure in the Crystal Bridges permanent collection.
This post was written by Sally Ball and Erica Harmon.