Friday, February 10, 2012

Eastman Johnson [American Painter, 1824-1906]

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862

Eastman Johnson was an American painter during the Civil War and was best known for painting genre paintings. Genre paintings are paintings of pictorial illustrations that symbolize everyday life. In 1859, Johnson painted Negro Life in the South, which was based on a scene in Washington D.C. This is considered to be Eastman Johnson’s most prominent paintings, and is an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. While slaveholders in the South believed tenements to be an uncomfortable living situation, Eastman Johnson depicts Negro Life in the South as African Americans in a backyard in Washington employing an assortment of leisure-time activities while remaining happy within the tenements in which they lived. Johnson’s painting can be contrasted to another one of his paintings known as A Ride for Liberty: The Fugitive Slave, and also John Rogers’ sculpture known as Slave Auction. The critical response of Negro Life was positive, whereas Slave Auction received much more tension surrounding the issue of slavery during this time. (source: SAFA Brooklyn History)

Negro Life in the South in 1859, by Eastman Johnson

Eastman Johnson, an artist and an abolitionist, painted Negro Life in the South in 1859. Negro Life in the South is a genre painting throughout the Antebellum period, and is found to be Johnson’s most prominent images. It was first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1859. The great success of the painting at the time was its debut in New York has usually been ascribed to its ability to be all things to all people.[1] Due to the title, most viewers may think this is a scene from a Southern plantation, but instead it is actually in the backyard of the nations capital in Washington D.C., and depicts the urban slave life. The purpose of the painting was to show poor conditions in which the slaves lived in and how they made the best of what they had. In order to portray their happiness within their living conditions, he portrays the slaves during their leisure time activities by dancing, socializing, playing the banjo, and playing with children.

Johnson, Eastman, Confidence and Admiration ca. 1859

Within the picture, a woman and a child are looking out of the window and watching what is going on below them in the backyard. Not only are the woman and the child gazing at the activities that are going on below, but also on the ride hand side of the photo there is a young white girl who is steeping through a fence within the backyard, who is dressed in her best clothes watching the slaves engaging in their leisure time activities. Eastman Johnson wanted to show that African Americans were people who had feelings like everyone else. The slaves in this photo reacted positively within their surroundings, despite the war that was going on around them. (source: SAFA Brooklyn History)

Eastman Johnson, Hannah Amidst the Vines, c. 1860

One of the preeminent masters of nineteenth-century U.S. genre, Eastman Johnson travelled to Germany to attend the popular Dusseldorf Akademie, and spent three years in The Hague carefully studying the composition and color of the seventeenth-century Netherlandish masters. Having previously mastered the skill of charcoal portraiture, he changed his subject matter after his return from Europe to traditional U.S. themes. His multi-figure scene, Old Kentucky Home - Life in the South (1859), for which he was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Design, inaugurated a series on rural southern African Americans. The Georgetown painting depicts a charming young girl in a naturalistic pose, leaning on a fence in an arbour with a string of grapes suspended from her mouth. (source: Georgetown University)

Johnson, Eastman (1824-1906) - Musical Instinct, 1860-69

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