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Of Love and Loss: A Valentine's Story from the Galleries

Dennis Miller Bunker (1861 – 1890)
Anne Page, 1887
Oil on canvas
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, Photography by Susan A. Cole, Seattle Art Museum.

One of Dennis Miller Bunker’s defining paintings is his 1887 portrait of Anne Page. The painting is low in key, with a dark neutral background devoid of patterns or accessories. Likewise, Anne Page wears an unadorned black dress. Her expression is passive and her hands rest comfortably in her lap, matched by a bunch of flowers on the table at the left. The painting is austere and formal, yet Bunker created an image of beauty, and a connection between Anne Page and the viewer, who may even stand in for the artist himself.


Dennis Miller Bunker

Dennis Miller Bunker


In December of 1885, Bunker met Anne Page through a mutual friend, Joe Evans, who appears to have been encouraging a romantic relationship. After meeting Page, Bunker wrote to Evans, “Your Miss Page came to see me day before yesterday…She seems to have the same charm that some of your other friends have. I mean your female friends. I am quite at a loss when I try to define it and I begin to think it a bit out of my line. I don’t know that I am entirely comfortable in the presence of such natures, they seem too fine for me.”[1] Bunker later expressed interest in painting Page’s portrait and in September of 1886, she agreed to his request. During the sittings, Bunker described Page to a friend, writing that she was “of such matchless charm that even the icy rigidity of Boston seems powerless to blot.”[2] The painting was finished in March 1887 in time to show at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of American Artists, where it met with critical acclaim.


During the summer of 1886 Bunker wrote Page often and sent her several long poems. In one of his letters to Page, Bunker wrote: “I think at last I am beginning to be glad that I am a painter. I begin to stop asking myself, at least, why I am one and recognize my right to make pictures. I begin to see that the love, the simple love of the beautiful things of nature, the way things look, is enough to give any one the right to be a painter. I think now it seems to be the secret and keynote of the whole thing.  But one must love something else, or, be he ever so skillful with paint, he will miss the charm.”[3] Shortly after this letter, Bunker began his portrait of Page.


While Bunker and Page did not form a romantic relationship, they remained friends throughout the rest of Bunker’s short life. Page even attended Bunker’s wedding to Eleanor Hardy in 1890. Sadly, Bunker died less than two months after his marriage while visiting with the Hardy family over Christmas. He was just 29 years old.


-Mindy N. Besaw, Curator, American art


[1] Bunker to Joe Evans, December 12, 1885, Dennis Miller Bunker papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

[2] Bunker to Joe Evans, October 13, 1886, Daniel Miller Bunker papers

[3] R. H. Ives Gammell, Dennis Miller Bunker (New York, Coward-McCann, Inc.: 1953), 24. Bunker to Anne Page, September 1, 1886, Bunker papers.