Negro Life at the South
Negro Life at the South
Oil on linen
frame: 51 x 61 x 5 in. ( 129.5 x 154.9 x 12.7 cm ) image: 37 x 46 in. ( 94 x 116.8 cm )
Set in the back yard of a dilapidated house, a group of slaves passes the time. The composition includes several vignettes. At center is a banjo player; at his side, a little boy has halted his play to listen to the music. A woman and her two children listen and dance. At left is a courting couple and, above them, a woman and baby watch from an upstairs window. At far right, two young girls watch as an elegant white woman and her companion emerge for the grander house next door to see the activity.
The Robert L. Stuart Collection, on permanent loan from the New York Public Library
This painting is Johnson's most famous work, and established his reputation as an artist. Though originally exhibited at the National Academy in April 1859 as Negro Life at the South, it was by 1867 popularly called Old Kentucky Home with a title taken from Stephen Foster's beloved song. He most likely began his work on this painting in 1858, and the setting was the backyard of his father's house in Washington, D.C. The white woman at right has been identified as Johnson's sister.
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