B103 Painting as a Vehicle of Collective Memory – Representations of the American Negro in the works of Eastman Johnson and William Sydney Mount.
black people were fine and happy human beings in their place, divinely designated as belowthat of white men. The Negro motifs must have appealed to him, making his genre paintingsextremely popular among the contemporaries.The motif of black musician was particularly employed by William Sydney Mountfrom his earliest artistic trials as it can be seen in
Rustic Dance after a Sleigh Ride
(Figure 1)inspired by the 1820 work of John Lewis Krimmel
Dance in the Country Tavern.
Young artistused the structure of the picture and positioning of the people the same way the German-American painter did a decade before. Despite being in the background the Negro fiddler, alsoa borrowing from Krimmel, may be interpreted as controlling the situation depicted in the painting by his act of playing. The fiddler is presented as a strict professional not as the one toattend the dancing for pleasure, as are the other two Negro figures – one with a whip, peepingthrough the door and the other with bellows – positioned at the fire place. All the three were purposefully depicted as faithful and content servants treating the assigned tasks withindulgence. It seems Mount's decision to paint a scene of local color was fortunate, for when
was exhibited at the American Institute of the City of New York in 1830 it wonfirst prize and achieved popular success.
Mounts’s occupation with Negro theme allowed the European minds of the time tofeel the flavor of American-ness as he continued with his careful portrayal of the Negro lifehis
pictures, both created in 1856. By the time he wasestablished with the reputation of “comic scenes”
painter which to the contemporary criticswas synonymous to everyday life chronicler. These studies were painted verily andrealistically focusing on the minutest detail. The joy and beauty of the paintings must haveenchanted the European patrons for whom they were produced. Nevertheless, through the