Negro Life at the South


Eastman Johnson (American, 1824–1906)


ca. 1876


Oil on canvas


18 1/4 x 24 1/8 inches


Purchase with funds from the Fine Art Collectors with leadership gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Henry Schwob, Mr. and Mrs. Terry Stent, Mr. and Mrs. Austin P. Kelley, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Huber, Dr. and Mrs. Gerald M. Stapleton, Mr. and Mrs. Noel Wadsworth, and the Collections Council Acquisition Fund, and funds from the Winter Family Foundation, and through prior acquisitions

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Johnson’s masterful handling of a divisive subject inspired both pro- and anti-slavery factions to find support for their views in this painting. For abolitionists, the terrible living conditions matched the immorality of slavery; for slavery’s defenders, the happy nature of the enslaved people evidenced that it was neither physically nor socially destructive. According to one critic, Negro Life at the South became the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin of pictures” with “as many painful as pleasant reflections.” Its fame led Johnson to create this version of his original 1859 painting for widespread distribution as a color lithograph.

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