The name of Eastman Johnson is inscribed above the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for a reason: He co-founded the world-famous institution.
Eastman Johnson was a Maine-born artist whose politically connected father brought him into contact with well-known portrait subjects.
He was the eighth and last child of Mary Kimball Chandler Johnson and Phillip Carrigan Johnson, who served as Maine’s secretary of state for two years before moving to Washington, D.C. as an appointee to the U.S. Naval Department.
Eastman had been apprenticed to a Boston lithographer in 1840. He joined his family in Washington, D.C., at about age 20. There he earned a living drawing crayon portraits , including John Quincy Adams and Dolly Madison
He studied in Europe before returning to New York City. He made his name with his masterpiece, a painting called Negro Life at the South, a street scene of slaves in Washington, D.C.
Eastman Johnson sympathetically depicted the plight of slaves and, while on an extended visit to Wisconsin, members of the Ojibwe tribe. He also painted genre scenes – everyday scenes of ordinary people – of husking bees, sugaring off, an old stagecoach and cranberry harvesting. In his time he was known as The American Rembrandt.
Eastman Johnson died April 5, 1906.
This story was updated from the 2014 version.