Seattle Art Museum (SAM)
Collection Quick Search

Water Babies


John Covert

Born Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1882; died Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1960

An obscure 1860s English children's novel, The Water-Babies, describes a young man's transformation into another form of being, a "water baby," who lived in an aquatic world of other kindly and virtuous innocents. The novel's author, the Reverend Charles Kingsley, argued that a belief in unseen things such as water babies—as metaphors for the human soul—represented another realm of knowledge altogether. "No one has a right to say that no water babies exist till they have seen no water babies existing, which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water babies."

Covert developed this painting from a photograph of a doll, as seen refracted in a glass of water, in order to create a visual image of the idea of two realities: the actual physical world and the truth that is our individual perception.

Oil on paperboard, 25 1/4 x 23in. (64.1 x 58.4cm), Gift of Paul Denby Mackie in memory of Kathleen Lawler and Nona Lawler Mackie, 59.152, © Seattle Art Museum

Inscribed: Signed and dated LR: C [thumb print] VERT/1919; Signed and inscribed on reverse: "Water Babies/John R. Covert."

Provenance: The artist to Kathleen Lawler (1881-1952), probably 1923; by bequest to her sister, Nona Lawler Mackie, Bellevue, Washington, 1952; by bequest to her husband, Paul Denby Mackie, Bellevue, Washington; to SAM, 1959

Now on view at Seattle Art Museum