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A Visit from the Old Mistress

1876 Winslow Homer Born: Boston, Massachusetts 1836 Died: Prout's Neck, Maine 1910 oil on canvas 18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61.0 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of William T. Evans 1909.7.28 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, East Wing

Gallery Label

A Visit from the Old Mistress captures a tentative encounter in the postwar South. The freed slaves are no longer obliged to greet their former mistress with welcoming gestures, and one remains seated as she would not have been allowed to do before the war. Winslow Homer composed the work from sketches he had made while traveling through Virginia; it conveys a silent tension between two communities seeking to understand their future. The formal equivalence between the standing figures suggests the balance that the nation hoped to find in the difficult years of Reconstruction.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Allegory - civic - injustice

Architecture Interior - domestic

Ethnic - African-American

Figure group

History - United States - Black History

Occupation - other - slave


paint - oil

fabric - canvas