Sunday, June 13, 2010

Eastman Johnson

images from the

I think I will change things up a little bit and do some art history. I know you have heard me talk about how important a knowledge of art history is to a painter. and I am going continue with some posts on that. If you haven't been reading this blog for a long time or wish to refresh your memory, if you click on art history over there in the archives you will find a great number of previous entries on the subject. I have kept mostly to the Americans but there is some on Dutch painting also as I feel they are the percusers to our own democratic art.

The painting above sometimes called "My Old Kentucky Home" is actually titled ":Life in the South" represents not Kentucky but Washington DC. It was painted in 1859 and was highly acclaimed, earning Eastman Johnson admission to the National Academy of Design. He began a career as a Genre painter, representing the life of his time in America. When you look at his pictures you will see shadows of American painting that was to come, particularly Winslow Homer and even Wyeth. Johnson doesn't get as much attention as he deserves today, and I suppose it was because he was a genre painter.

A husking bee on Nantucket
Johnson studied in Dusseldorf, Germany with Emanuel Leutze, painter of "Washington crossing the Delaware". In those days American painters often went to Dusseldorf to study rather than Paris, where the next generation studied. After two years there he studied at the Hague in the Netherlands.

Johnson was born and raised in Fryeburg and Augusta, Maine. In those days Maine wasn't out in the sticks. It wasn't until the end of the wooden boat era that the population of Maine collapsed and it became a backwater. Towns like Searsport that are wide spots in the road today were major shipping capitols to the world then. Several members of Lincolns cabinet were Mainers. Eastman Johnsons father was secretary of State in the capitol of Maine Augusta and a hotelier.

If you click on this painting of a shoemaker in his shop you can see his handling, obviously influenced by the Dutch. There is a little of Wyeth (also connected to the State of Maine) in this painting.

This is a scene of Maple sugaring from Fryeburg, Maine. That must have been more of a community event in those days. In the 20th century artists like Gruppe and Hibbard would depict it as a deep woods activity carried out by hardy rustics in inexpensive plaid jackets.

This glistening jewel of a painting is called Sunday morning.

Johnson painted many picture of black America of the era and followed the Union army sketching and I assume he must have been an ardent abolitionist, a sentiment that would have been typical in northern New England in that day. If you would like to read about an artist who was not, check back through the blog and read my writing on Samuel Morse who was a racists' raciest.

Here is a painting of an escaping slave family that he based on an actual event he saw at the battle of Gettysburg. The other famous Mainer present that day was of course Joshua Chamberlain whose leading the 22nd Maines' bayonet attack at little Round Top turned the course of the battle the day before Picketts' failed charge marked the high water point of the Confederacy.

This young girl is being chided for offenses that may have been sexual in nature by this geezer in a painting called "The Reprimand".

Below is a scene from Nantucket where he was later to establish his studio, I believe I have painted on or near this location.

Below is a portrait of the artist Sanford Gifford. After the 1880's Johnson turned his attention to portraiture and painted many of the luminaries of his day including Emerson and Longfellow . He was a cofounder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and died in 1906.

Here is Johnsons' grave in Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, New York

image from



Stape, you don't see me on the comments very often but I just want to tell you how much I enjoy and appreciate your blog. I visit every day and am always glad to learn from your lessons.

JonInFrance said...

Hi Stape

I've just spent a week or so reading your entire blog - stayed up till 4 one night/morning - it's given me so much pleasure (not least when it makes me laugh out loud. Keep up the good work - and a BIG thank you!

billspaintingmn said...

Yes Stape! I'm enjoying every post,
(Iv'e been listening to Jeff at Ronnie Scotts!)
ha, I'm speechless...

Linda Crank said...

Thanks, Stape, for the history and especially for creating the large images for study.

CM said...

I know you have covered this subject, but I do have a question about temperature. I can mix colours warm and/or cool so that is not the problem. However if I look at, say, a bush and I think I see that the lights are cool and the shadows are warm I can look away and look back and think I see the opposite...that the lights are warm and the shadows cool. In other words I cannot really tell. My mind can see what it chooses to see. How do YOU see which is really warm and which is really cool?

Thank you for sharing these wonderful historical paintings.You open new worlds for us.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.I am always glad to find put that people are reading this thing!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Great! now the blog is costing both of us to lose sleep! Thanks for the compliment.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Rock on!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I believe I will do some more this evening.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The temperature of the light varies from warm to silvery to cool. But I sometimes have the same thing and can see it either way. Although not when it is obviously warm. I often INSTALL the temperature of the light.