Fragile – Hannah Hoes Van Buren, Six of Diamonds
1999, oil and acrylic on canvas, 70 x 56”
History makes very little mention of Hannah Hoes Van Buren. We know this: Hannah had blue eyes and spoke with a Dutch accent. Hannah and her husband Martin spoke Dutch at home. She bore four sons to Martin and died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five, seventeen years before her husband became President.
Hannah’s daughter-in-law Angelica Singleton Van Buren served as First Lady and secured her own place in history, but Angelica does not interest me — these paintings are about our Presidents’ wives: alive, dead, or in the shadows. With so little source material on Hannah, I decided to use her early death to explore larger themes: fleeting youth, the fragility of life, the inevitability of death. I gave Hannah red hair — her husband was a redhead, she was Dutch; maybe it was true. I put a young, thin-waisted Hannah on a horse riding on a trail of broken Delft tiles, riding out of the painting and out of history. In the landscape is a skull — a frequent art symbol for mortality — and a small windmill. The windmill represents all things Dutch, a reminder that the USA has always been a melting pot of immigrants.