As viewers we can only wonder what this young, unidentified woman—who is almost certainly a nursemaid for the infant she holds—is thinking as she stares into the distance. She bears a stoic, serene expression and is well-coiffed and handsomely dressed, with lace and a large cameo adorning her neckline. Photographs of African American caregivers with their white charges were common from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth century, especially in the South. The practice of employers or masters arranging for photographs of their African American nannies reinforced a commonly held belief in the benevolence of such relationships. Sadly, supporters of slavery often used the photographic “evidence” of African American nannies as healthy, well cared for, and “one of the family,” in defense of their cause. Although we don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding this portrait, we can admire its rich tonal gradations and exceptional clarity, made possible, in part, by the woman having sat stone-still through the long exposure period required of photography at this time (the softly blurred infant had no such patience).
From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art
AAAS 67.5, GEOG 21.01, Black Consciousness and Black Feminisms, Abigail Neely, Winter 2019
AAAS 10.01, Introduction to African American Studies, Trica Keaton, Spring 2022
Humanities 2.01, The Modern Labyrinth, Lucas Hollister, Petra McGillen, Andrea Tarnowski, Laura Edmondson, Winter 2023
Sociology 61.01, Quantitative Social Science 30.17, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 33.05, Gender (In)equality, Kristin Smith, Spring 2023
American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-July 21, 2019.
Estate of a private collector, Florida; sold to Dennis A. Waters, Exeter, New Hampshire (dealer), about 2006; sold to collector and dealer of photography in Midwest, about 2012; sold to Casey A. Waters (son of Dennis), Exeter, New Hampshire (dealer), about 2014; sold to present collection, 2016.
This record is part of an active database that includes information from historic documentation that may not have been recently reviewed. Information may be inaccurate or incomplete. We also acknowledge some language and imagery may be offensive, violent, or discriminatory. These records reflect the institution’s history or the views of artists or scholars, past and present. Our collections research is ongoing.
We welcome questions, feedback, and suggestions for improvement. Please contact us at: Hood.Collections@dartmouth.edu