Eastman Johnson, Cleaning corn cobs in Nantucket

Eastman Johnson famous American artist of the 19th century

Eastman Johnson, Collecting roses
Collecting roses

An artist who was respectfully called “American Rembrandt” by his contemporaries

Eastman Johnson (July 29, 1824 April 5, 1906) is a famous American artist of the 19th century, an outstanding master of genre and portraiture. Eastman Johnson was a vivid adherent of realism in art, the formation of his style was greatly influenced by the work of the Dutch and Flemish masters of painting of the 17th century. The master’s biography is full of interesting events and fascinating travels, and his best paintings today adorn the expositions of many US museums.

Eastman Johnson had great authority among his colleagues, and his work has always attracted the interest of a discerning public. Contemporaries often called him “American Rembrandt”, paying tribute to the talent of a skilled painter who spent most of his life in New York.

Eastman Johnson, Hatch family
Hatch family

Biography of Eastman Johnson

Eastman Johnson was born on July 29, 1824 in the small town of Lovell in Maine, located in the far northeastern United States. His father Philip Carrigan was an influential local politician, and his mother was a housewife. Eastman was the youngest the eighth child in the family, he had five sisters and two brothers.

Eastman Johnson, Cleaning corn cobs in Nantucket
Cleaning corn cobs in Nantucket

The childhood of the future artist was happy and carefree; he went to primary school in Freiburg, where his family moved soon after his birth. Johnson Sr. was then appointed to a prestigious position in the capital of Maine, Augusta, and it was in this city that his youngest son received his high school diploma. From an early age, Eastman was fond of drawing and dreamed of becoming an artist, so after graduating from school, his parents sent the young man to study in Boston to a local lithographer.

By the age of 20, Johnson had learned to paint monochrome and color portraits, which his father’s wealthy friends willingly bought, but such a recognition was clearly not enough for an ambitious young man. After living for about five years with his family in Washington, Eastman finally secured financial support from his parents and left for Europe to receive a full academic education.

Eastman Johnson, New lady's hat
New lady’s hat

In 1849 he went to Düsseldorf, home to one of the most prestigious schools of painting in the Old World.

Over the next two years, Eastman attended classes at the local academy as a free listener, and then got a job as an assistant in the workshop of Emanuel Leutze (Emanuel Leutze). After living in Germany for four years, Johnson left for The Hague to get acquainted with the work of the great Dutch and Flemish masters of painting. He then went to Paris, where he studied at the studio of the artist Thomas Couture for about a year and finally returned to the United States shortly after his mother’s death in the summer of 1855.

Eastman Johnson, Arbor decorated with roses
Arbor decorated with roses

Upon his return to America, Eastman Johnson visited his sister Sarah, who lived in the Great Lakes region of Wisconsin. Here he got acquainted with the life of the Native Americans and became interested in painting pictures depicting the life of the Ojibwe Indians. But these works were not in demand among the conservative local public and, in order to make money, Eastman soon switched to portrait works.

In 1859 Johnson moved to New York and lived in this famous city for the rest of his life. He opened his own studio and very soon acquired a reputation as a fashionable talented painter. In addition to portraits, he began to write works of everyday life, many of which were devoted to the life of black slaves. It was these works that brought the artist wide fame, and in 1860 he was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design.

Consolidated account
Consolidated account
From that moment on, Eastman no longer experienced financial difficulties and could devote himself entirely to creativity.

He constantly took part in exhibitions, led an active social life, and in April 1870 became one of the founders of the famous Metropolitan Museum in New York. The authoritative artist remained a bachelor for a long time and only at the age of 55 he married Elizabeth Buckley. In this marriage, his only daughter, Ethel, was born to him, whom his father loved very much.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the recognized master of painting continued to actively work in the studio, but his life path was inexorably approaching the end. And on April 5, 1906, Eastman Johnson died surrounded by loved ones and was buried in Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where the remains of many prominent New Yorkers are buried.

A corner by the hearth, 1863
A corner by the hearth, 1863
The most famous paintings by Eastman Johnson

Over the course of his many years of professional career, the brilliant American artist has written many wonderful works of everyday life and portraiture. And yet, the most famous paintings by Eastman Johnson are rightfully considered:

  • “The Negro Life in the South” (1859) is the greatest masterpiece of the master, according to the recognition of most art critics. The artist masterfully depicts the humble life of African-American slaves against the backdrop of a dilapidated old house in great detail.
  • “Escape to Freedom Fugitive Slaves” (1862) is a work that causes the viewer to feel deep concern for the fate of the heroes of the work. On it, a family of four in an early gray morning rushes on a horse to the long-awaited freedom.
  • “The Lord is my Shepherd” (1863) is a painting in which a simple African American enthusiastically reads the Bible. The features of the hero’s face are almost invisible against the background of a dark gloomy room with a wretched setting.
  • The Old Stagecoach (1871) is one of the artist’s most cheerful works. On it, mischievous children, far from the supervision of adults, have fun, climbing on a dilapidated carriage.

Eastman Johnson is one of the finest American artists of the second half of the 19th century. In his paintings, he forever captured for the descendants of many outstanding historical personalities and the life of his contemporaries ordinary residents of the United States.

An old house in Kentucky (1859)
An old house in Kentucky (1859)
Old house in Kentucky
Old house in Kentucky
Pony treat in Surrey garden (England)
Pony treat in Surrey garden (England)