American Artists: Eastman Johnson (1824-1906)

Figure 1.--This Johnson work is a depiction of the welthy Brown family in their home. It was painted in 1869 based on a Mathew Brady photograph. James Brown (17911877) was a partner in the Brown Brothers & Co. banking firm. He is shown with his wife, Eliza, and their grandson William in their New York City mansion. It was presumably done as a commissioned portrait. Images like this provide valuable details about family life that the much more common studio photohraphic portaits can not offer. The bulk of Johnson's work in contrast and why he is so importanht is about ordinary peope going about their daily lives.

Eastman Johnson was born in Lovell, Maine (1824). He was the eighth and last child of an improtant Maine family. His father was a successful businessman and held impotant positions with both in Maine state and Federal Government. His elder brother Philip became a Commodore in the United States Navy. Eastman grew up in Fryeburg and Augusta. Rather than continuing his education, his father apprenticed Eastman to a Boston lithographer (1840). This was the beginning of his art education, he learned about engraving and lithography. His father's political career developed along with his businesses. President Polk appointed him to a posistion in the Navy Department (Ministry). The family as a result moved to Washington, D.C. Eastman subsequently moved to Washington, D.C. to join his family at about age 20 (1844). He supporte himself through his developing artistic abilities. These inclue portraits of John Quincy Adams and Dolly Madison. Here is father's political connections helped. He returned to New England and settling in Boston to begin his art career (1846). Eastman lived for a time in Boston, studied in Europe, and spent some time in the West (Wisconson), he used the family's Washington home as a base until moving to New York City (1858). Eastman is among the most underappreciated of the important Americn artists. He left a remarkable record of genre impags and porttaits of mid-19th century America. He was more appreciated in his time than today. Perhas because his influenced were from the 17th century rather than the more modern French impressionists an evolving abrstract schools. Because if photography, the art world was moving away from realistic depiction. Many of his paintings were influenced by the 17th-century Dutch masters. He focused on them while in Europe, spebding considerable time in the Hague (early-1850s). Upon the death of his mother (1855), he returned to America and spent some time in the West (Wisconsin) with family. While there he did some wonderful drawings ana paintings of the Ojibwa. Some Americans at the time called him as the American Rembrandt, an indication of the high regard in which he was held. He was co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, arguably the most impotant institution in American art. Johnson's most important work was his genre paintings depicting everyday life, valuable in an era of mostly studio photography. There are many depictions of children in his work. He also did several importnt portraits. One of his most important works illustrated the situation for urban blacks in the border states just before the Civil War, a work which helped establish his reputation as a major American artist. He did many other works about black Americans as well as the Civil War. Perhaps the most famous is 'A Ride for Liberty', painted in 1862 during the Scond Battle of Bull Run. The rest of his genre work is more focused on ordinary people and every day life.


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Created: 2:48 AM 5/19/2015
Last updated: 1:08 AM 6/26/2017