The Girl I Left Behind Me
Born: Lovell, Maine 1824
Died: New York, New York 1906
oil on canvas 42 x 34 7/8 in. (106.7 x 88.7 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase made possible in part by Mrs. Alexander Hamilton Rice in memory of her husband and by Ralph Cross Johnson
Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, East Wing
A girl stands on a promontory, her hair streaming in the wind. The path before her trails off, so she must either retrace her steps or try to find her way forward. Her wedding ring speaks to a commitment to her union and a husband who has gone to war. The split-rail fence below and the fog surrounding her speak to a world fraught with division and ambivalence. Johnson’s figure appears to be waiting for some sign of what will come next. The title comes from a Regimental song.
The Civil War and American Art, 2012
Eastman Johnson imagined a soldier's wife standing on the hill where they parted. The crimson lining of her wind-whipped cape suggests their passionate love for one another, while her wedding ring, appearing almost at the center of the painting, ensures the young bride's devotion. Johnson had witnessed the Battle of Manassas in 1862, and the painting's title refers to an old Irish song that became a popular regimental ballad during the Civil War. His viewers might have recalled the lyrics:
My mind her full image retains
Whether asleep or awaken'd
hope to see my jewel again
For her my heart is breaking.
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006
The Civil War defined America and forever changed American art. American artists of this era could not depict the conflict using the conventions of European history painting, which glamorized the hero on the battlefield. Instead, America's finest painters captured the transformative impact of the war. Through landscapes and genre paintings, these artists gave voice to the nation's highest ideals and deepest concerns — illustrating a time that has been described as the second American Revolution.
Smithsonian American Art Museum: Commemorative Guide. Nashville, TN: Beckon Books, 2015.
History - United States - Civil War
Landscape - weather - wind
State of being - emotion - fear
paint - oil
fabric - canvas