Eastman Johnson (Eastman Johnson)

Eastman Johnson

Artist. Born Jonathan Eastman Johnson in Lovell, Maine, the son of Philip C. Johnson, a government official, and Mary Chandler. Eastman grew up in Fryeburg and Augusta, where the family lived at Pleasant Street and later at 61 Winthrop Street.His father was the owner of several businesses, and active in fraternal organizations: he was Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Maine (ancient Free and Accepted Masons) (1836–1844). He was appointed in 1840 as Secretary of State for Maine, serving two years. In 1844 or 1845 Johnson moved to Washington, D.C., and began to draw crayon portraits, a career boosted when his family moved to the nation’s capital following his father’s appointment to a high-level post in the Navy Department. Johnson drew skilled portraits of, among others, John Quincy Adams (National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.), and Dolley Madison (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University). In 1846 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow invited Eastman to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to draw portraits of his family and friends. For the next three years Eastman maintained studios in Amory Hall and Tremont Temple while he drew such notables as Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Charles Sumner (all at the Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge, Mass.).  He took classes at the Royal Academy, and in January 1851 he entered the Düsseldorf studio of the celebrated German-born American history painter Emanuel Leutze. After a brief trip to Holland and London in the summer of 1851, he relocated to The Hague in order to study Rembrandt and the Dutch masters firsthand. August Belmont, American minister to the Netherlands, helped Eastman secure portrait commissions, and Eastman remained there until August 1855, when he moved to Paris to study with Thomas Couture, another teacher popular with the Americans. Eastman had to cut short his Paris stay and return to Washington, D.C., in October 1855, following news of his mother’s death. Although he regularly sent his paintings to the National Academy of Design, in this period he supported himself by painting portraits, taking a studio in Cincinnati during the late winter and early spring of 1857-1858. He settled permanently in New York City in 1858. Fame came in 1859 when Eastman exhibited Negro Life at the South (New-York Historical Society) at the National Academy of Design. For the setting, he drew on his observations of slave quarters at F and 13th streets in Washington, D.C. Groups of slaves animate the composition by dancing, courting, and playing the banjo at the rear of the run-down building, while at the edge a white mistress steps through a fence to view the revelry in her back yard. A reviewer of that year’s annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design, writing in the June 1859 issue of The Crayon, offered characteristic praise: “One of the best pictures in respect to Art and the most popular, because presenting familiar aspects of life, is E. Johnson’s ‘Negro Life at the South.’ Although a very humble subject, this picture is a very instructive one in relation to Art. It is conscientiously studied and painted, and full of ideas. Notwithstanding the general ugliness of the forms and objects, we recognize that its sentiment is one of beauty, for imitation and expression are vitalized by conveying to our mind the enjoyment of human beings in new and vivid aspects.” Elected as an associate of the prestigious National Academy of Design in 1859 and as a full academician the following year, Eastman continued to paint African Americans with a dignity that makes evident his Republican sympathies. During the Civil War years, however, he also painted genre scenes of the homefront that had popular appeal, such as News from the Front (1861, unlocated), Knitting for the Soldiers (1861, unlocated), Woman Sewing–Work for the Fair (1862, unlocated), and Writing to Father (1863, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Like other artists he traveled with the Union troops on military campaigns in search of fitting genre subjects, which he later completed as finished paintings: The Wounded Drummer Boy (1871, Union League Club, New York) and The Field Hospital (1867, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). The Ride for Liberty–The Fugitive Slaves (1863, versions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Brooklyn Museum) depicts an event he witnessed on 23 March 1862 as he accompanied General George B. McClellan’s troops advancing toward Manassas. The picture depicts a slave family of four as agents of their own freedom–not just passive recipients of white benevolence; they sit astride a single horse, galloping toward the Union lines in the early dawn hours. In 1866, when sympathy for freed slaves ran high among northern artists, Eastman painted Fiddling His Way (Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va.), a representation of a recently freed slave earning his livelihood entertaining a white rustic family who listen respectfully to the handsome young African American. By the end of the 1860s he was indisputedly the most praised genre painter in America. Russell Sturges, Jr., one of the new breed of professional art critics, in reviewing the 1867 annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design for the June issue of The Galaxy, praised Johnson’s entry, The Pension Claim Agent (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) and then added: “A collection of Mr. Johnson’s pictures would probably be more interesting to visit than one of any other American painter. His work, taken together, is more truly representative of his countrymen. . . . There is no painter, not even among the younger men who are just coming into sight from behind the horizon, who get on faster, or who leave the past of a year or two back more decidedly and forever behind.”  He and his wife, Elizabeth Buckley of Troy, New York, whom he married in 1869 and with whom he would have one child, began to summer on Nantucket in 1870. The island provided a range of new subjects. He bought property there in 1871 and for the rest of his painting career spent long summer months on the island, where he painted The Old Stage Coach (1871, Milwaukee Art Center), Hollyhocks (1876, New Britain Museum of American Art, Conn.), Cornhusking Bee (1876, Art Institute of Chicago), and many studies of the cranberry harvest, culminating in his major picture The Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket (1880, Timkin Gallery, San Diego). He also painted many pictures of the retired sea captains who reminisced around pot-bellied stoves, such as The Nantucket School of Philosophy (1887, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore). Visits during 1877 and 1878 to his sister’s family in Kennebunkport, Maine, resulted in a series of barn interiors featuring energetic children climbing on the beams. Along with many of these wealthy business and social leaders. Eastman founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1870. In the late 1860s and early 1870s he painted small “conversation pieces,” such as The Brown Family (1869, versions at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) and The Hatch Family (1871, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); however, he usually painted life-sized portraits. He was particularly skilled and successful at painting men, and his works constitute a pantheon of the great public figures of the time: Bishop Henry C. Potter, Frederick A. P. Barnard, William Evarts, George M. Pullman, William H. Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and Presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. (bio by: Shock)  Family links:  Parents:  Philip Carrigan Johnson (1795 – 1859)  Mary Kimball Chandler Johnson (1796 – 1855)  Siblings:  Eastman Johnson (1824 – 1906)  Philip Carrigan Johnson (1828 – 1887)*  Harriet Charles Johnson May (1833 – 1881)* *Calculated relationship


  • July, 29, 1824
  • USA


  • April, 04, 1906
  • USA


  • Green-Wood Cemetery
  • USA

2725 profile views