Daniel Huntington towered over the New York art world in the nineteenth century, serving as president of the National Academy of Design and the Century Association. He began as a landscape painter working in the style of the Hudson River School, but soon expanded his repertoire to include history painting, portraiture, and literary subjects. Cooper Hewitt is home to nearly 1000 of his drawings, including this study of Katrina Van Tassel, the object of Ichabod Crane’s affections in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
This portrait of Katrina paring apples was used for an illustrated edition of Washington Irving’s ghostly tale. A related painting, with Ichabod looking over her shoulder, is now in the collection of Historic Hudson Valley. In it, Katrina’s green and red dress mimics the colors of the apples in her lap.
The text accompanying this illustration describes Ichabod’s first impressions of the Van Tassel house:
In a corner stood a huge bag of wool, ready to be spun; in another a quantity of linsey-woolsey just from the loom; ears of Indian corn, and strings of dried apples and peaches, hung in gay festoons along the walls…From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an end, and his only study was how to gain the affections of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel.
Though Ichabod sets out to woo Katrina, he is thwarted by a romantic rival, Brom Bones. In the story, Ichabod, a superstitious schoolmaster, disappears after being chased by a headless horseman—possibly a supernatural figure, though more likely Brom in disguise. Sleepy Hollow concludes with Brom marrying Katrina, and looking “exceedingly knowing” whenever the story of Ichabod is related.
I thought that Cooper Hewitt’s portrait of Katrina was appropriate for the start of October, in part because she appears slightly sinister. The shadows on her face are deeper than in the final composition, and the cloth over her head is eerily diaphanous. Turning an apple in her left hand, she uses the knife in her right hand to remove the peel in one long, curling ribbon, dangling below. The image reminds me of an earlier passage in Sleepy Hollow in which Ichabod sat with “a row of apples roasting a spluttering along the hearth,” sharing stories of witchcraft and listening to “marvelous tales of ghosts and goblins.”
Laura Fravel is the Curatorial Research Assistant (American Art) in the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Washington Irving, Legend of Sleepy Hollow. From “The Sketch-Book” of Washington Irving. Illustrated with Original Designs by Huntington, Kensett, Darley, et al. (New York, NY: G. P. Putnam, 1864), pp. 20-21.
 Ibid., pp. 14-15.