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A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves (recto)

Eastman Johnson

American Art

In this composition, Eastman Johnson portrayed an enslaved family charging for the safety of Union lines in the dull light of dawn. The absence of white figures in this liberation subject makes it virtually unique in art of the period—these African Americans are independent agents of their own freedom. Johnson claimed to have based the painting on an actual event he witnessed near the Manassas, Virginia, battlefield on March 2, 1862, just days before the Confederate stronghold was ceded to Union forces.

In agony close to her bosom she press’d The life of her heart, the child of her breast:— Oh! love from its tenderness gathering might, Had strengthen’d her soul for the dangers of flight. But she’s free!—yes, free from the land where the slave From the hand of oppression must rest in the grave; Where bondage and torture, where scourges and chains Have plac’d on our banner indelible stains.
—Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (African American poet), “Eliza Harris” (1854)
MEDIUM Oil on paperboard
DATES ca. 1862
DIMENSIONS 21 15/16 × 26 1/8 in. (55.8 × 66.4 cm) frame: 3 × 30 3/16 × 35 in. (7.6 × 76.7 × 88.9 cm)  (show scale)
SIGNATURE Signed lower right: "E. J."
CREDIT LINE Gift of Gwendolyn O. L. Conkling
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Eastman Johnson (American, 1824–1906). A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves (recto), ca. 1862. Oil on paperboard, 21 15/16 × 26 1/8 in. (55.8 × 66.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Gwendolyn O. L. Conkling, 40.59a-b (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 40.59a_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 40.59a_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2016
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RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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