She is an angel, too, of course, not just a farm girl who's been working at the stove all day and is now ready to feed the harvesters. "The Dinner Horn" by Winslow Homer isn't just about the harvesting of crops. It's also about the harvesting of souls. Jesus said: "With a trumpet blast he will send out his angels, and they will gather his chosen from the four winds." Homer, who'd been a combat artist, painted this picture in 1870, five years after the Civil War, which he had not forgotten. All of his great paintings -- of men battling the sea and seas battling the rocks -- carry a lament, a memory of brave men lost. Her trumpet shines. So does that overturned milk can, another death symbol. So does her dress, which, as an angel's robe ought to be, is supernaturally unstained. The prickly vine against the house is another sign of sacrifice: if bent into a ring it would make a crown of thorns.

Beneath the haystack is the ghost of a tree that the painter painted out.

-- Paul Richard

Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon gave "The Dinner Horn" to the National Gallery of Art in 1994. It is in the West Building, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, in Gallery 70. For more information, call 202-737-4215 or visit www.nga.gov.