Eastman Johnson, American, Sugaring Off, ca. 1861-1866, Oil on canvas; 134 x 245.1 cm (52 13/16 x 96 1/2 inches), Museum Works of Art Fund 45.050
Making It in America, October 11, 2013 -
Johnson chose a humble subject, but this grand-scale work was intended for a merchant’s carpeted salon—not the front rooms of the rural folks in the painting. In the days before “social media,” entire communities looked forward to occasions when everyone got together. Johnson captured the rascal kids, the fiddler, the young couples flirting, the returned veterans still wearing parts of their uniforms, all gathering in late fall to boil down sap collected from sugar-maple trees.
He first blocked out the scene in oil, then used the margins to try out ways to best shape his caricatures. These sketches were for his eyes only and would have been covered by layers of glaze and scumble as the process went forward.
Dennis Congdon, painter and RISD professor (Painting)