COLLECTION: Paintings

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Unidentified Man/Virginian Luxuries

Probably ca. 1825
Origin: America, New England (probably)
Unframed: 20 7/8" x 16" and Framed: 22 5/8" x 17 1/2"
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1993.100.1
The primary support is painted on both sides. One side, viewed vertically, presents a bust-length portrait of a man wearing a dark reddish brown coat and an ochre-colored, double-breasted waistcoat with a white stock and white shirt. He has dark brown hair and dark blue eyes. The other side of the canvas (viewed horizontally) presents four figures shown in two different types of interaction. A common horizon line unites the two segments, but it is unclear whether they were meant to be read independently or together. At left, a white man in a dark tail coat and white breeches and a black woman in a white chemise and ochre-colored skirt embrace on the verge of kissing. At right, a white man with an angry expression on his face raises a stick, apparently preparing to beat a black man, who stands nearby with his back to the viewer.The white man wears ochre-colored trousers and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up above his elbows; the black man wears ochre-colored trousers and is shirtless.

Artist unidentified.

The frame is a simple ogee molding painted black with gilt inner molding.
Label:Public records list significant numbers of mulattoes, confirming the frequency of interracial sex in slave-holding societies in America. Enslaved women had little choice but to submit to the advances of whites. Few white fathers made any concessions to their mulatto offspring; indeed, most denied their patrimony altogether. (When favoritism was shown, it could make life even harder for the mixed blood child who, in some cases, was never fully accepted by either of its parents' races.)

Slaves commonly recalled beatings, whippings, and other punishments. Some resulted in deaths. Equally unsettling was the arbitrariness with which such torture could be meted out, thereby adding psychological terror to physical abuse.
Provenance:According to Sumpter Priddy III (CWF's source), the woman who sent this painting to him inherited it from her father, who lived in Connecticut (but where and when her father acquired the painting are unknown). The identities of both father and daughter are unknown.