Back from the Orchard
Oil on board
Purchased through the Katharine T. and Merrill G. Beede 1929 Fund; the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W'18 Fund; a gift from the Estate of Russell Cowles, Class of 1909; and a gift from Jose Guerrero, by exchange; P.993.26
Eastman Johnson was one of the most cosmopolitan and soughtafter painters of the late nineteenth century, known for his work in genre painting and for his later portraits of leading figures in politics and finance. After artistic study in Düsseldorf, The Hague, and Paris in the late 1840s and early 1850s, Johnson established himself in New York. Like Winslow Homer, he became known for his endearing, seemingly spontaneous views of American rural life—harvest scenes, maple sugaring camps, and children at play in farmyard settings. Many of these, including this work, were painted on Nantucket, where he built a summer home in 1871. Images of carefree country children—full of innocence and potential—were particularly comforting during the years following the nation’s traumatic Civil War. Dating from 1876, America’s centennial year, this painting is particularly rich in national associations. The abundance of contemporary paintings of children, especially mischievous boys, suggests a national identification with not only the innocence of childhood but also the independence and youthful opportunism of orchard robbers, street urchins, and errant schoolboys. Furthermore, the apple, a ubiquitous American crop, is also emblematic of our national identity, as reflected in the popular expression “as American as apple pie.” In this work, these gigantic, perfectly round fruits spill out of the boy’s pockets, suggesting the bounty of the American land and its long-held identification as the new Eden. The visual impact of this work derives in part from the starkness of the composition, its lack of anecdotal background detail, and especially the figure’s isolation in space. Johnson has thereby given a quiet monumentality to this seemingly commonplace moment in which a youth triumphantly bites into his prized apple.
Last Updated: 4/29/09