Stretcher: 76.5 x 64.5 x 3.8cm (30 1/8 x 25 3/8 x 1 1/2")
Frame: 109.2 x 96.5 x 12.7cm (43 x 38 x 5")
Born Torrington, Connecticut
Amid the festering hostilities between the North and the South in the 1850s, John Brown’s zealous opposition to slavery grew. In 1857, he began making plans for the 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, an event that would make him both infamous and immortal. The scheme to commandeer firearms with which to arm a slave rebellion failed, and Brown was captured, tried, and hanged. His insurrection found favor among many Northern abolitionists, but the South viewed Brown as a sign that they must either break their allegiance to the Union or be destroyed by an increasingly radical North. Showing Brown wrapped in an army blanket, this portrait is thought to be based on a likeness published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1859. Through the dark shadows that dominate the painting’s lower right, it is possible to discern manacles binding Brown’s wrists.
James Sutton, New York and Tacoma; estate sold at auction, purchased by Ferry Museum [predecessor of Tacoma Historical Museum, Washington State Historical Society], Tacoma; purchased 1974 NPG