Happy Birthday Jonathan Eastman Johnson

Eastman Johnson: “Not at Home (An Interior of the Artist’s House) c. 1873. Brooklyn Museum


The American painter Jonathan “Eastman” Johnson was born today, in 1824.  His birthplace was Lovell, Maine, which is situated by Kezar Lake in Oxford County, Maine. In the 19th century the Kezar River provided water power for the giants of industry.  Lovell was the centre for mills that generated spools, long lumber, axe handles, ox goads, carriages, sleighs, harnesses cabinet work, coffins and, even boots and shoes. Farms prospered because of fertile soil and tourists soon discovered the beauty of Kezar Lake.

Eastman’s family was well-known and respected in the community of Fryeburg and Augusta, where they lived during Eastman’s formative years. His father became Secretary of State for Maine (1840) and was appointed by President James Polk to be Chief Clerk in the Bureau of Construction, Equipment, Repair and Navy Department in the late 1840’s.

Life has fascinating twists and turns.  Serendipity has interesting outcomes.

When Eastman was 15 years old, he left home for New Hampshire to work in a dry-goods story.  He had always had an interest in drawing, which prompted his father to apprentice him to a Boston lithographer in 1840.  By 1842, he was back in Augusta making a steady living by making crayon portraits. By 1845, he was in Washington D.C. embraced by the rich and famous: John Quincy Adams, Dolly Madison, Daniel Webster, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Eastman was only 22 years old, with a future before him, a legacy to fulfill.

Eastman would travel to Europe, study at the Royal Academy in Düsseldorf, Germany, before making his way to France and Italy.  In Holland he became immersed in 17th-century painting particularly Rembrandt and was aptly named the “American Rembrandt.”  He was he offered the post of court painter, which he graciously declined.  He returned to the United States in 1855 and would capture the times in which he lived.  One of his most famous paintings was “Wounded Drummer Boy.”

Eastman Johnson: Wounded Drummer Boy

Arguably, Eastman Johnson’greatest gift to future generations was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.  He was one of the visionaries who co-founded “The Met.”  His name is inscribed at the entrance, a reminder to all who pass through the doors, that art galleries safeguard the heart of a city, the soul of a society.



Eastman Johnson: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Nathaniel Hawthorne – Ralph Waldo Emerson – each Crayon and Chalk on Paper 21 x 19 in. oval – 1846

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

16 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Jonathan Eastman Johnson

  1. What a treat! and what a discovery… thank you Rebecca… loved the examples of Eastman Johnson’s art… the portraits of such fascinating intelligent creative men, which revealed their sensitivity and inner beauty, and the gorgeous interior… love pictures of interiors… peeping into another life and environment)

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    1. Oh, I do love peeping into another life and environment. Isn’t it interesting that there is a staircase and an open door that beckons us to enter and sit on the half revealed chair and sofa. Perhaps it is teatime? And the vibrant rugs and china cabinet. I had no idea who Eastman Johnson was nor do I think that people who enter the Met even notice his name. Here was an artist that was invited to be the court painter! He gave up the opportunity to come home and witness the unfolding events. His painting and sketches of the Ojibwa remained unsold in his lifetime. What a treasure! I understand these paintings are now owned by the St. Louis County Historical Society in Duluth, Minnesota.

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  2. Thank you so much for introducing me to this most remarkable man. Like Mandy and Elisabeth, (and you, I think!), I had not heard of him before. Incredible that such an influential man should these days be relatively unknown – I could not even find a biography about him!

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    1. I had no idea who Eastman Johnson was either, until I happened across a tweet. Our technology has given us the capability to learn from each other. There are many stories that are hidden. By the way, I follow the National Galleries of Scotland Youtube channel. What an amazing source of information captured in short videos. I continue to learn. Hugs!!

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      1. I love that the galleries are starting to make such fabulous use of technology. It really enhances the viewing experience when one knows some background before visiting. Every day is a learning experience – I am at the moment experimenting with different art techniques for my challenge. So inspiring! 🙂

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      2. I am enjoying your 100 days, Liz. You have inspired me to look deeper into the creative process. Sometimes we feel that we should only be observers, when we should be actively involved. The learning experience is about experimenting, stretching our boundaries – not to create perfection. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

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    1. I confess I had never heard of him either! There are so many narratives hidden in the folds of history – I feel like I’m on a treasure hunt in search of lost art. I’ve been travelling from Vancouver to Edmonton and have taken time to view the art that is featured in airports. Check out this link that features “The Rivers Monument” in Vancouver Airport. https://clanmother.smugmug.com/TheArts/Art-in-Cities/Vancouver-Art/The-Rivers-Monument–YVR

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  3. Thank you for this interesting history about an early American. He traveled Europe, learned from there, but came back to make an important contribution to his birth country– I love that about him. We need to thank him for his part in “The Met” and, of course, his Art. Thanks for posting the painting of the “Wounded Drummer Boy” and his Crayon and Chalk” on paper.

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    1. What you will find interesting about Eastman Johnson was his ability to capture the spirit of his age and transformations that occurred during his time. He explored difficult subjects such as slavery. For example his “Negro Life at the South” which was completed shortly before the Civil War began has kept scholars over the years, and even now, busy formulating interpretations. The thought that came to mind as a read his bio was that Eastman Johnson was a brilliant communicator and believe that art should be preserved and open to the public.


    1. Thank you, Gallivanta! I confess that I had never heard of this artist before I saw a tweet that showcased one of his painting. He has a fascinating history that came about because of his choices. Instead of staying in Europe he came home to witness and record the Civil War. He travelled with a guide, Stephen Bonga, who was Ojibwe and African-American. For a time he lived among Ojibwe and captured their way of life in painting. He did marry – finally – at the age of 55 and had a daughter. He lived a big life!

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