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Purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1894 at auction, this painting dated 1879 by Luc-Olivier Merson (French, 1846-1920) is one of four versions of the same composition, of which the best known (also from 1879) is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Hearst’s example (25 x 44 in.) is distinguished by the crescent moon in the upper left corner.  Another variant is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts Chéret (Nice, France), and a larger composition (with Joseph looking up toward the Virgin) was sold in Paris in March 2019.  Merson was quite successful in his prime, creating grand frescoes in churches and government buildings, along with commissions for banknotes and postage stamps, but he was marginalized later in life by a growing taste for abstract art.  Nevertheless, his vision of the Holy Family’s rest while fleeing persecution by Roman imperial forces continues to exert its profound appeal.  From a restrained palette of taupes and grays, Merson evoked a vast, desolate landscape and a gently smiling sphinx, who cradles the Virgin and her son.  His radiance outshines the unknown source of light (the approaching dawn?) that reveals the scene while a thin strand of smoke rises from the dying fire near Joseph.