The Bacidae

Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson (American, 1847-1906)

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  • Here, two soothsayers of ancient Greece, called Bacidae, study the entrails of a bird for signs of the future.
  • Dodson’s work is based on dramatic themes from the Bible, history and classical mythology.
  • Most women artists of the time painted portraits or domestic scenes.
The Academic Painting of Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson

Sarah Dodson was born in Philadelphia to a father who was an illustrator, engraver, and portraitist. She attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then went to Paris to continue her studies. Following a trip to Italy, Dodson was inspired by the Renaissance masters. She set her artistic ambitions on completing monumental works based on themes from the Bible, history, or classical mythology. She remained in France until 1891, when she relocated to Brighton, England.

The Bacidae was part of a series of salon pictures. It shows two priestesses of Baccis, a noted soothsayer, who studied the entrails of birds in order to make his predictions. The painting represents an old priestess initiating a new (and alarmed) member of the order. This large canvas was exhibited at the 1883 Paris Salon. Dodson received praise for her technique, which was described as “virile in color and draftsmanship, powerful without exaggeration, masculine without straining.” This canvas became the artist's best known work.

Cartlidge, David. Art and the Christian Apocrypha. Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2001.


Object Information

Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson (American, 1847-1906)
creation date
oil on canvas
79 x 63 in. (canvas)
87 x 69-1/2 x 4 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed, l.r.: Sarah Dodson
Inscribed, verso, c.r.: SARAH PAXTON BALL DODSON / 18 † 83
accession number
credit line
Gift of Richard B. Dodson
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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