One of the most dramatic paintings that Mary Baker Eddy owned is The Dawn—depicting The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston. Here is the story behind this work of the distinguished American artist John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916).

Not long after the dedication of The Mother Church Extension on June 6, 1906, William B. Johnson—Clerk and member of the Board of Directors of The First Church of Christ, Scientist—received a letter written by Pamelia Leonard (a worker in Eddy’s household) on behalf of Eddy. It instructed:

…Mrs. Eddy has requested me to write to you saying that she wants you to see that a good picture of the Mother Church and the Extension as it stands today properly framed and sent to her.1

Johnson asked his son William Lyman Johnson, who was an assistant in the Clerk’s office and a member of the Committee on Finance, to have a picture made. Lyman Johnson took photographs of The Mother Church, which consists of two buildings: the 1894 Original Edifice, a Romanesque structure, and the domed Extension, with its Byzantine and Italianate features.  From these photographs, father and son chose one view to send to Eddy. She approved of the view that the Johnsons had chosen, leaving it to the Directors to decide whether to have the picture made in oil or crayon.

The Dawn by John J. Enneking 0.1253

The Dawn by John J. Enneking 0.1253.

The Directors asked Lyman Johnson to find an artist who could “do justice to the subject.”2 A few days later he met with a group of artists, and a discussion took place about how a picture of the edifices should be depicted.3 (It is not clear whether Lyman Johnson gathered the artists together himself or if he attended a gathering arranged by someone else.) Lyman Johnson later remembered that no one in the group was interested in painting the more modest Original Edifice along with the towering Extension except Enneking;  he felt that a view from the right angle would create a very nice composition showing both edifices. The following day Lyman Johnson went to Enneking’s studio, where he saw sketches the artist had already made. Enneking indicated he had wanted to make a painting of the churches ever since the new building was completed.

John Joseph Enneking

John Joseph Enneking late in life.
(Courtesy of Vose Galleries, Boston.)

Enneking has been called one of the most important landscape artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in a small town in Ohio, he began drawing as a boy. After losing both of his parents within the same year, he went to live with his aunt and uncle in Cincinnati. He saw his first art exhibit there at the age of 16, and this set him on course to become an artist. He attended St. Mary’s College in Cincinnati, where he learned the rudiments of drawing.

After serving in the Civil War, Enneking went to New York to further his training in painting. He soon moved to Boston, because he had heard of its burgeoning art community. There he managed to sell enough paintings to finance a move with his family to Europe in 1872. He travelled and painted, finally arriving in Paris,4 where he saw the paintings of well-known European artists, among them those who later came to be known as the Impressionists. Enneking painted with many of them, including Renoir, Manet, Monet, and Pissarro; Corot and Millet became his friends.5

In 1876 the Enneking family returned to the United States and moved to Hyde Park, near Boston. Enneking was soon a prominent figure in Boston culture and society. He painted, taught, and lectured. He was also a lover of nature and a champion of nature preservation.

A painter of light fascinated by its varying intensities, Enneking often painted outdoors. It was not unusual for him to spend days en plein air, where he made “studies of every typical expression…of color, tone, and values as modified hour by hour by atmospheric effect….”6 (Later he would transfer his studies to canvas in his studio.) The introduction to the catalogue Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by John J. Enneking describes the artist’s  painting vividly: “… he poeticized the whole subject, enveloped it in luminous waves of light, spiritualized it by thought and love until it became a shimmering, transfigured, tonal harmony.”7 This describes well his painting of the Christian Science Church. In a letter to Eddy, William Johnson described Enneking’s intentions for the painting as “to make the beauty of the noble dome, bathed in pure light.”8

In preparation for a meeting with the Church Directors, William Johnson wrote to tell them about the skill of the artist and some of the prizes he had been awarded. They commissioned Enneking to make the painting of The Mother Church at an agreed on price of $1,000—the equivalent of over $27,000 in 2019 dollars. In the letter confirming the price, dated February 22, 1907, William Johnson reminded Enneking that he had indicated in a conversation with the Directors on February 16 that the painting could be finished in four months.9 (It has been incorrectly reported in Pierce and Kristiansen [152] that the cost of the painting was $10,000.)

In the meantime, Lyman Johnson aided Enneking with his work by giving him information about the size of the painting desired, making notes about the direction and quality of the light in the hallway where the painting was to be hung at Pleasant View (Eddy’s Concord, New Hampshire residence), and acting as liaison with the Directors and Eddy. In July Lyman wrote to Eddy with good news from Enneking. As was his habit, he had completed studies for the painting and had chosen two for her to see so that she could choose one for the final painting.10

…One was of both edifices by moonlight, very poetic and lovely, the lights of an evening service shining through the windows of the new edifice towering upward among the stars… The other sketch represented the churches at the moment a great storm had passed over them. The sidewalks were wet and steaming; the treacherous, brutal, storm-ladened clouds of blue-black…had broken apart just over the dome and the tower, and the sunlight streamed over them in morning brilliancy…

Eddy liked both sketches, but ultimately chose the one of the defeated storm.11

William B. Johnson wrote Eddy on July 26, 1907:

Mr. John J. Enneking, the artist who was selected to paint a picture of The  Mother Church for you, has finished his work, and the Directors will be glad to send the painting to you as a loving gift from your Church if you will indicate that you are ready to receive it….

Mr. Enneking has expressed a desire to go to your house and hang the picture so that it will show to the best advantage. Will it be convenient for you to have him do so?12

There is no evidence that Enneking visited Pleasant View. But the next day William Johnson wrote Eddy and enclosed a lengthy letter from Enneking, in which he explained his objective in painting the Christian Science church.13 (The full letter was later reprinted in the Christian Science Sentinel on May 16, 1908.) In his letter Johnson spoke of the artist’s accomplishments and skill, and explained  that Enneking, though not a Christian Scientist, was “intensely interested and powerfully champions it [Christian Science],” which may in part explain his inspiration for painting this picture.14 Enneking named the painting The Dawn, or, as he explained it, “The Dawn of a new phase of religious expression,—based on life, truth and love.” He continued, “That thought or sentiment was more or less in my mind while painting the picture.” In describing his use of light and shadow as representative of Christian Science, Enneking uses descriptors such as glow of light, roseate morning light, a warmer glow, a whole mass of light, and reflected light—the vernacular for which his paintings are most known.15

The painting apparently languished in a darkened place in Enneking’s studio for some time. This may in part be due to Eddy’s attentions being focused on the “Next Friends” lawsuit and her subsequent move to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, in January 1908. (The “Next Friends” lawsuit was brought to determine Eddy’s competence to govern her own affairs. The suit began March 1, 1907, ended August, 21, 1907, and was formally dismissed September 30, 1907.) As a result of this delay, the paint suffered some weeping of surplus oil, which Enneking had to attend to before The Dawn could be delivered. Because of the condition of the surface of the painting, Enneking felt that the colors would “tone and the picture would become richer” once exposed to its new environment. He recommended that the painting not be varnished for at least three years. This work, intended for display in Pleasant View, was delivered to Eddy’s new home in Chestnut Hill on March 30, 1908.16

<i>The Dawn</i> as it hung in the library of Mary Baker Eddy's home at Chestnut Hill. P05795

The Dawn as it hung in the library of Mary Baker Eddy’s home at Chestnut Hill (P05795).

Creating a painting of The Mother Church was  a monumental task for Enneking. He is reported to have had “moments of apprehension and of discouragement when the difficulties of presenting the edifices in an artistic manner seemed overwhelming.” Lyman Johnson observed:

The picture is one that, like good friends, good music, and good literature, is more appreciated when one comes in frequent contact with it. It is one that, through its power and dignity, imagination and color-scheme, reveals its beauty and truth little by little. Owing to the difficulty of the subject and the way in which Mr. Enneking has handled it, I think that it is his masterpiece of skill in color, drawing, and conception.17

Mary Baker Eddy acknowledged John J. Enneking’s efforts in one very appreciative line. (The letter was reprinted in the Christian Science Sentinel of May 16, 1908).

Your picture of The Mother Church of Christ, Scientist, distinguishes the artist, points a history, and illuminates it.18

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  1. Pamelia J. Leonard to William B. Johnson, 2 October 1906, F00795.
  2. SF – Johnson, William Lyman, Re Enneking’s Painting – “Dawn”.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Jesse B. Rittenhouse, “The Art of John J. Enneking,” Brush and Pencil, September 1902, 335—345.
  5. P. J. Pierce and R. H. Kristiansen, John Joseph Enneking: American Impressionist Painter (Hingham MA, Pierce Galleries, Inc., 1972), 63.
  6. Rittenhouse, 337.
  7. Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by John J. Enneking, Boston Art Club, March 2nd to 17th, 1917, catalogue.
  8. W. L. Johnson to Mary Baker Eddy, 27 July 1907, Box 536218, Folder 24947.
  9. W. L. Johnson to John J. Enneking, 22 February 1907, Box 18000, Folder 24948.
  10. SF – Johnson, William Lyman, Re Enneking’s Painting – “Dawn.”
  11. Ibid.
  12. W. L. Johnson to Eddy, 26 July 1907, Box 18000, Folder 24948.
  13. Enneking to Eddy, 27 July 1907, IC 596.
  14. W. L. Johnson to Eddy, 27 July 1907, Box 536218, Folder 24947.
  15. Enneking to Eddy, 27 July 1907, IC 596.
  16. W.L. Johnson to Calvin A. Frye, 27 March 1908, IC 153.
  17. W.L. Johnson to Eddy, 30 March 1908, IC 593.
  18. Eddy to Enneking, n.d., V04982.