The painting hanging above Sheriff Andy's fireplace is a French masterwork that spooked a young Salvador Dali
This historic oil painting has a hidden image hiding underneath.
Who says the folks in a small town like Mayberry can't appreciate fine art? Heck, the living room in the Taylor household was downright continental.
Perhaps you recall the layout of the home. It was a cozy place, particularly in the winter, we gather, with a large stone fireplace dominating a wall on the viewer's left. If you pay close attention, you will notice subtle design changes over the years of The Andy Griffith Show. In the first season, a stag's head was mounted over the fireplace. A small, framed, matted piece of artwork hung to the side. Closer to the corner, a simple shelf held about a dozen books. Take a gander.
Now, this decor changed. Starting in season two, a larger piece of artwork was hung over the fireplace. "The Education of Ernest T. Bass" in season five provides a good look at it, as you can see at the top of this page. We've brightened the artwork inside the frame.
In the painting, two peasants bow their head in prayer in a potato field. The sun is setting on the horizon behind the young couple, bathing the scene in shadow and amber. A small basket rests by the foot of the woman. A pitchfork sticks up out of the tilled dirt. Far off in the distance, a steeple rises from the flat land.
The work is titled The Angelus. French artist Jean-François Millet crafted the oil painting in the middle of the 19th century. Currently, it belongs to the collection of the renowned Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Millet lived most of his life in poverty. He originally sold The Angelus for about a hundred bucks. Fifteen years following his death, around the turn of the century, the painting sold for $150,000. Today it is undoubtedly worth millions.
The Taylors did not own the original.
Due to the spiritual nature of the painting, reproductions became quite popular in Christian homes. The "Angelus" itself is a Catholic devotion commemorating the Incarnation.
Salvador Dalí saw it a different way. When Dalí was a child, a reproduction of The Angelus hung in his schoolroom. The painting freaked him out. He saw it as a funeral scene. He was particularly spooked by the basket, which he swore contained a dead infant, not humble tubers.
Here's where the story gets fascinating. Years later, as a beloved surrealist artist, Dalí had the power to prove his point. At his insistence, the Louvre scanned the painting with X-rays. Sure enough, hidden under layers of paint, was an early rough image of a geometric shape at the feet of the peasants. It looked remarkably like a coffin. So Dalí was not just some spooked goth kid.
So, knowing all that, it might seem like a strange piece of art to find in the home of a North Carolina sheriff. But it beats the weird clowns hanging in the boys' room on The Brady Bunch.