The Lord Is My Shepherd

Media - 1979.5.13 - SAAM-1979.5.13_1 - 80087
Copied Eastman Johnson, The Lord Is My Shepherd, 1863, oil on fiberboard, 16 5813 18 in. (42.333.2 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Francis P. Garvan, 1979.5.13
Free to use

Artwork Details

The Lord Is My Shepherd
16 5813 18 in. (42.333.2 cm.)
lower left in oil: E. Johnson back upper left stamped and in pencil: JHA/8205 back center in ink: A/2220 back center right in pencil: (ONo6) frame verso upper right in felt-tipped pen and ink: Cat. No. 62.268/Cultural History
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Francis P. Garvan
Mediums Description
oil on fiberboard
  • Figure
  • Figure male
  • African American
  • Recreation — leisure — reading
  • Religion — Christianity
Object Number

Artwork Description

Eastman Johnson painted The Lord Is My Shepherd only months after the Emancipation Proclamation of New Year's Day, 1863. The image of a humble black man reading from his Bible was reassuring to white Americans uncertain of what to expect from the freed slaves. But the simple act of reading was itself a political issue. Emancipation meant that blacks must educate themselves in order to be productive, responsible citizens. In the slaveholding South, teaching a black person to read had been a crime; in the North, the issue was not "May they read?" but "They must read."

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006