The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is famous for its myriad collections of paintings and art pieces. Guests of the museum would buy a ticket and then waltz on in to view the spectacular gallery that has been put together for them. However, what the majority of guests neglect doing is scrutinizing through all the names in front of the museum, the names of those people that founded, donated, and made the museum what it is today. Among those many names is one that belongs to a man named Eastman Johnson.
As a painter himself, Johnson accomplished numerous pieces of work. His most well-known works include that of which depict slavery and slave life. Such examples of these works are the paintings A Ride for Liberty — the Fugitive Slaves, Negro Life at the South, and The Lord is my Shepherd. Although these paintings are three different pieces, they all share the common theme of slavery and the hardships of a slave.
In A Ride for Liberty — the Fugitive Slaves, Johnson incorporates symbolism painted a family of slaves making a run from slavery on horseback. In a dreary landscape, the father is staring off into the horizon, guiding the family to a new future. Sitting right behind him is his wife, looking back at their “home”, at their past. Meanwhile, the child, sitting at the front, is looking downwards at what’s happening underneath him, at the present.
This painting, Negro Life at the South, depicts numerous slaves all cooped up in what seems to be a worn down cottage. Although the standard of living isn’t too high, the slaves, or if I am permitted to say as they are what’s called in the name of the painting, negros seem to have found a way to enjoy themselves and find activities to help them pass the time, whether it be playing music or spending time with each other. Also, Johnson gifted this painting with the additional theme of segregation in that, while the old, worn down house on the left is the one belonging to the negros, the house on the right is owned by most likely to be the slaves’ master, being all clean and in tip-top shape. This separation can further be seen by the fact that there is a tree painted dead in between the two houses.
The last painting that I have mentioned, the one entitled The Lord is My Shepherd, is a very instilling and calm piece unlike the other two. In it is a black man sitting in a chair reading what seems to be the Bible, trying to educate himself. Johnson had painted this piece after the Emancipation Proclamation of New Year’s Day, 1863, signifying that it was time for the freed ex-slaves to start educating themselves if they would want themselves a future.
- Artwork of Eastman Johnson can be found here
- Picture of A Ride for Liberty — the Fugitive Slaves can be found here
- Picture of Negro Life at the South can be found here
- Picture of The Lord is My Shepherd can be found here