The Maple Sugar Camp-Turning Off

Eastman Johnson

El campamento para la fabricación de azúcar de arce. La despedida

Johnson, Eastman

Lovell, 1824 - Nueva York, 1906

The Maple Sugar Camp-Turning Off, c. 1865-1873

© Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

Initialled lower right: ''EJ''
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Oil on panel

26 x 57,7 cm

CTB.1981.51

Artwork history

  • Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York.

  • Mrs. Norman B. Woolworth, New York, 1970.

  • Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York.

  • Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano, 1981.

  • Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.

1970

The American Painting Collection of Mrs. Norman B. Woolworth, New York, Coe Kerr Gallery, nº 64.

1981

American Painting of the Nineteenth-Century, NewYork, Andrew Crispo Gallery, nº 44.

1981

Life in 19th Century America: An Exhibition of American Genre Painting, Evanston (IL), Terra Museum of American Art, nº 54, p. 28, illus.

1982 - 1983

Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Painting: Selections from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Houston (TX), Museum of Fine Arts; Oklahoma City (OK), Oklahoma Art Center; Omaha (NE), Joslyn Art Museum, nº 29, p. 72.

1983

Maestri Americani della Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza, Vatican City, Musei Vaticani, nº 30.

1984

Maestri Americani della Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza, Lugano, Villa Malpensata, nº 29.

1984 - 1986

American Masters: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Baltimore (MD), The Baltimore Museum of Art; Detroit (MI), The Detroit Institute of Arts; Denver (CO), Denver Art Museum; San Antonio (TX), Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute; New York (NY), IBM Gallery of Arts and Sciences; San Diego (CA), San Diego Museum of Art; Palm Beach (FL), The Society of the Four Arts, nº 31.

1988 - 1989

Bilder aus der Neuen Welt. Amerikanische Malerei des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Thyssen-Bornemisza und Museen der Vereinigten Staaten, Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz; Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, nº 52, illus.

1996

De Canaletto a Kandinsky. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, nº 43, p. 130.

1996 - 1997

From Zurbaran to Picasso. Masterpieces from the Collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Shanghai, Shanghai Museum; Beijing, China National Art Gallery, p. 84.

1997

Capolavori dalla Collezione di Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza: 60º anniversario dell'apertura della Pinacotecca di Villa Favorita, Lugano, Villa Favorita, nº 52, p. 146.

1997

Del vedutismo a las primeras vanguardias. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, nº 18, p. 96.

1998 - 1999

Lyonel Feininger. Von Gelmeroda nach Manhattan. Retrospektive der Gemälde, Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; Munich, Haus der Kunst, nº 52.

1999 - 2000

Naturalezas pintadas de Brueghel a Van Gogh. Pintura naturalista en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, nº 36, p. 116.

2000

De Corot a Monet. Los orígenes de la pintura moderna en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Valencia, Museo del Siglo XIX, pp. 84-86.

  • -Baur, John I. H.: Eastman Johnson, 1824-1906: An American genre painter. [Brooklyn], Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1940, pp. 20-21.

  • -Williams, H. W. (Jr.): Mirror of the American Past: A Survey of American Genre Painting: 1750-1900. Greenwich, 1973, pp. 146-147, illus. (dated 1875).

  • -Sokol, David M.: “Life in 19th Century America”, in Life in 19th Century America. An Exhibition of American Genre Painting. [Exhib. cat.] Evanston (IL), Terra Museum of American Art, 1981, nº 54, p. 31, illus. p. 28.

  • -Warren, David B.: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Painting: Selections from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. [Exhib. Cat. Houston, Museum of Fine Arts – Omaha, Joslyn Museum of Art, 1982-1983]. Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, 1982 , p. 72 [ Sheet by Warren].

  • -Novak, Barbara: Nineteenth-Century American Painting: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Ellis, Elizabeth Garrity… [et al.]. London, Sotheby´s Publications, 1986 , nº 53, pp. 178-179, illus. [Sheet by Manthorne].

  • -Gaehtgens, Thomas W. (ed.): Bilder aus der Neuen Welt. Amerikanische Malerei des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Thyssen-Bornemisza und Museen der Vereinigten Staaten. Adams, Willi Paul [et al.]. [Exhib. Cat. Berlin, Nationalgalerie – Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1988-1989]. Munich, Prestel, 1988 , [Sheet by Von Bismarck].

  • -Storm Nagy, E.: Europa e America. Dipinti e acquerelli dell’ Ottocento e del Novecento dalla Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza. Guida delle opere esposte. Milan, 1993, nº 29, p. 50, illus.

  • -De Canaletto a Kandinsky. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, [Exhib. Cat. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza], 1996, n. 43, p. 130. [Sheet by Kenneth W. Maddox].

  • -From Zurbaran to Picasso. Masterpieces from the Collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Shanghai, Shanghai Museum; Pekín, China National Art Gallery, [Exhib. Cat. China], 1996 p. 84.

  • -Capolavori dalla Collezione di Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza: 60º anniversario dell’apertura della Pinacotecca di Villa Favorita, Lugano, Villa Favorita, [Exhib. Cat. Villa Favorita, Lugano], 1997 n. 52, p. 146.

  • -Del vedutismo a las primeras vanguardias. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao [Exhib. Cat.  Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao], 1997, n. 18, p. 96.

  • -Naturalezas pintadas de Brueghel a Van Gogh. Pintura naturalista en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, [Exhib. Cat. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza], 1999, n. 36, p. 116.

  • De Corot a Monet. Los orígenes de la pintura moderna en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Valencia, Museo del Siglo XIX [Exhib. Cat. Museo del Siglo XIX, Valencia], 2000, pp. 84-86.

  • -Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Arnaldo, Javier (ed.). 2 vols. Madrid, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2004, vol. 1, p. 284, illus. p. 285 [Sheet by Katherine E. Manthorne].

Expert report

Eastman Johnson grew up in Maine, where he began his career as a painter of portraits. Following six years of travel and study in Europe, he returned to the United States and headed west and then south, seeking opportunities and subjects. In 1859 he completed the large-scale Negro Life in the South (New York Historical Society) which established his reputation as an enormously popular painter of genre scenes. By 1860 he seems to have reached a decisive moment in his career, and began to reclaim his New England identity, both in his art and in his life. That summer he returned to his native Fryeburg Maine, as he did for much of the decade, where he would find the rural subjects for which he became justly renowned. He first tried his hand at a corn husking scene, but when he returned in the fall of 1861 it was with the aim of painting a maple sugar camp. He sketched individuals and small groups of figures engaged in tapping the trees and boiling the sap, in preparation for a panorama encompassing every phase of the production. All indicators point to a large-scale final canvas, a grand synthesis of the labour associated with his home state. Whether from lack of patronage or other setbacks, it was never realised. Instead at his death he left at least forty individual studies to suggest the nature of this ambitious project.

Painted on a wood panel over twice as long as it is high, Maple Sugar Camp-Turning Off presents a multi-figured arrangement of several stages of the work. At right is the sugaring shed and vat; at left, there is a pile of cut logs that provides a spot for a number of figures to sit and watch the “action”. Other smaller vignettes suggest the kind of casual interaction that were part of country life. At the far left two men are seated on a bench under the tree, engaged in conversation; elsewhere children play while other men and women eat, drink, and engage in merriment. Unlike other images from the series, which provide detailed renderings of individuals and equipment, Maple Sugar Camp-Turning Off is sketchily painted, with the structures and figures summarily indicated. Rather, Johnson here captures remarkably the effect of the Maine woods in late fall, with scattered patches of snow on the ground and the hazy atmosphere redolent with the feel of the impending New England winter.

These pictures by Johnson had traditionally been interpreted as happy rural scenes, emotional escapes for the artist and his audience during the Civil War years. More recently, however, scholars have begun to detect strains in the fabric of this community work. The profit from the maple sugar was of course essential for rural towns, yet none of the new technology available at the time-cranes to lift the kettles, troughs to store the syrup-appear in the painting. Maple sugar was furthermore an ingredient of whiskey, and so we see here and there men taking a surreptitious drink: perhaps a sign of aimlessness in the backwoods. These details appear cautionary, however, unlikely to disturb drastically the ideal of free citizens working in harmony within the context of nature.

Katherine E. Manthorne