Eastman Johnson (July 29, 1824 - April 5, 1906) was an American painter,
and Co-Founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Eastman Johnson (July 29, 1824 - April 5, 1906) was an American painter, and
Co-Founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, with his name
inscribed at its entrance. Best known for his genre paintings, paintings of
scenes from everyday life, and his portraits both of everyday people, he also
painted portraits of prominent Americans such as Abraham Lincoln, Nathaniel
Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His later works
often show the influence of the 17th century Dutch masters whom he studied while
living in The Hague, and he was even known as The American Rembrandt in his
Johnson was born in Lovell, Maine, the eighth and last child of Philip Carrigan
Johnson and Mary Kimball Chandler (born in New Hampshire, 18th October 1796,
married 1818). His eldest brother Commodore Philip Carrigan Johnson Jr.
Eastman Johnson - his brother, Commodore Philip Carrigan Johnson - Oil on Canvas
21 x 25 in. - 1876(father of Vice Admiral Alfred Wilkinson Johnson) was followed
by his beloved sisters Harriet, Judith, Mary, Sarah, Nell and his brother
Reuben. Eastman grew up in Fryeburg and Augusta, where the family lived at
Pleasant Street and later at 61 Winthrop Street. 
His career as an artist began when his father, the owner of several businesses,
Secretary of State for Maine (1840) and then in government in Washington DC, 
apprenticed him in 1840 to a Boston lithographer. In 1849 he moved to
Düsseldorf, Germany where many artists, including many Americans, studied
Art,  and there was accepted into the studio Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, a
German who had lived in the United States for a while before returning to
Germany. Johnson then moved to The Hague and studied 17th century Dutch and
Flemish masters. He ended his European travels in Paris, studying with the
academic painter Thomas Couture in 1855. After returning to America in 1855 due
to the death of his mother. In 1857 he lived and painted among the native
Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) near Superior, Wisconsin. In 1859, he established a
studio in New York city and secured his reputation as an American artist with an
exhibition featuring his painting Negro Life at the South or as it is more
popularly known Old Kentucky Home.
He was also a member of the Union League Club of New York, which holds many of
Eastman Johnson - Ojibwe Wigwam at Grand Portage - Oil on canvas 10.25 x 15.2 -
1857Johnson's style is largely realistic in both subject matter and in
execution. His original photorealistic charcoal sketches were not strongly
influenced by period artists, but are informed more by his lithography training.
Later works show influence by the 17th century Dutch and Flemish masters, and
also by Jean François Millet. Echoes of Millet's The Gleaners can be seen in
Johnson's The Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket although the emotional tone
of the work is far different.
His careful portrayal of individuals rather than stereotypes enhances the
realism of his paintings. Ojibwe artist Carl Gawboy notes that the faces in the
1857 portraits of Ojibwe people by Johnson are recognizable in people in the
Ojibwe community today.  Some of his paintings such as Ojibwe Wigwam at
Grand Portage display near photorealism long before the photorealism movement
but in keeping with the American tradition of realism that can be seen in the
works of Charles Willson Peale whose painting The Stairway Group is said to have
fooled George Washington.
His careful attention to light sources contributes to the realism. Portraits
Girl and Pets and The Boy Lincoln make use of single light sources in a manner
that echoes the 17th Century Dutch Masters.
Eastman Johnson - Comparison of Cranberry Pickers, Nantucket - 1879 and - The
Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket - 1880. Both are oil on canvasJonhson's
subject matter included portraits of the wealthy and influential from the
President of the United States, to literary figures to portraits of unnamed
individuals, but he is best know for his genre work, his paintings of everyday
people in everyday scenes. Johnson often repainted the same subject changing
style or details.
His depictions of New England life, such as ''The Cranberry Harvest, Island of
Nantucket, The Old Stagecoach, Husking Bee, Island of Nantucket, The Sap
Gatherers, and Sugaring Off at the Camp, Fryeburg, Maine established him solidly
as a genre painter. Over the course of five years, he made many sketches and
smaller paintings depicting the process of turning maple sap into maple sugar,
but never completed the larger work he had started.
In contrast, the much celebrated Old Stagecoach was mostly staged in his studio
and its composition carefully planned. The stage coach itself originated as an
abandoned coach that he encountered and sketched while hiking in the Catskils.
The children were painted from local children recruited from near his Nantucket
Studio. Despite this artifice, the painting was celebrated as wholesome, natural
Eastman Johnson - Kay be sen day way We Win - Charcoal and Crayon on Paper -
10.75 x 14 in - 1857After his return from Europe, Johnson went to visit his
sister in what was then the western frontier of Wisconsin. Carl Gawboy, a modern
day Ojibwe artist, has posited that Johnson's guide was likely George Bonga, a
son of Pierre Bonga, a freed slave, who had married an Ojibwe woman. Gawboy
speculates that Johnson's time with this mixed-race family changed his approach
to painting. Certainly Johnson was successful in getting many Ojibwe to sit for
him. His drawings and painting depict Ojibwe people in a much more intimate and
relaxed manner than is usual for painting of that period. Also unusual was that
he often included the subject's names in the title of the works. He did not
focus solely on individual portraits, but also did paintings and sketches of
scenes which including the Ojibwe dwellings, St. Louis bay, and other groupings
of Ojibwe in everyday activities.
Johnson left Wisconsin due to wide spread financial panic that rendered his real
estate investments there worthless. He left there for Cincinnati, Ohio to make
money via portrait commissions and did not return to the subject of the Ojibwe.
His paintings and sketches of the Ojibwe remained unsold during his lifetime and
now are in the possession of the Tweed Museum of Art on the campus of University
of Minnesota Duluth.
Eastman Johnson - Negro Life at the South - Oil on canvas - 36 x 45.25 in - 1859
Eastman Johnson - A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves - Oil on paperboard
- 22 x 26.25 in - c 1862Negro Life at the South is considered Johnson's
masterpiece. Although this painting was popularly known as Old Kentucky Home
nearly from the beginning, it depicts a scene from Washington, D.C.
The painting is a domestic scene behind a dilapidated house. On the right in the
foreground is a couple courting, in the middle there is a banjo player playing
while an adult woman dances with a child as others look on. One of the
onlookers, far to the right is a young white woman in an elegant white dress.
Above the scene, an adult woman looks out a window as she steadies a small child
sitting on the partially collapsed roof. Skin tones vary in the scene from
person to person. Aside from the white observer on the far right, the palest
person in the scene is the young woman being courted. The darkest skin belongs
to the woman dancing with the child in the middle foreground. Some have viewed
this as simple realism, others see it as an invitation to the viewer to
contemplate the mixed racial heritage of those portrayed. Both proponents
and detractors of slavery have seen this painting as defending their
Another painting of Johnson's is less open to interpretation. A Ride for Liberty
— The Fugitive Slaves painted in 1862, depicts a slave family riding to freedom.
This painting is based on Johnson's observations during the Civil War battle of
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