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A Currier And Ives Masterpiece

FROM THE BEGINNING to the end of its long publishing career, the firm of Currier & Ives was keenly aware of what the public wanted. In 1861, when the Civil War had taken so many men from the farms to the battlefields, they published a number of peaceful genre prints which had great appeal as an escape from the prevailing war hysteria. One of the best of these is the colorful "Husking".

The original of this print was painted by Eastman Johnson about 1860. Although painted in New York, the scene could well have been somewhere in Maine where the artist was born and where he spent the first twenty years of his life. A successful painter for some sixty years, he was born in 1824 and died in 1906, his years of artistic productivity coinciding with the heyday of the lithographic print. Although he is known primarily as a portrait painter, his preference was for genre painting, and it is now generally agreed that it was unfortunate that he did not devote himself more to this field. The color and brilliance of his large canvas, "Cornhusking" is excellently reproduced in the Currier & Ives print. Indeed, many European art experts consider it the finest lithograph ever done in America. The only painting of Johnson's issued by Currier & Ives, it was published in the large folio, drawn.on stone by the lithographer Severin, and hand-colored by an unknown artist. These watercolorists, for the most part anonymous, worked on the large-folio prints at the rate of one dollar per dozen and the excellence of their work accounts for much of the fine quality of Currier U Ives prints.

In this autumn scene, the light of the late afternoon sun picks up the bright yellow of the cornstalks on the barn floor and sharply outlines the figures. At the left is an old man braiding a cluster of orange-colored ears to be used as seed for another year. In the center, the farmer carries a basketful of husked ears on his shoulder. At the right is a young woman whose work has been interrupted by a neighbor who has dropped in with his dog and a brace of ducks, the latter possibly to be roasted for the supper which followed a husking and made of it a social occasion.

The original painting from which this print was reproduced is in the collection of The Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts. The colors have dimmed somewhat with the passing of the years so that the light of the afternoon sun and the other highlights are now shown to better advantage in a good copy of the print.



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