A Visit from the Old Mistress

Media - 1909.7.28 - SAAM-1909.7.28_1 - 82531
Copied Winslow Homer, A Visit from the Old Mistress, 1876, oil on canvas, 1824 in. (45.761.0 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of William T. Evans, 1909.7.28
Free to use

Artwork Details

A Visit from the Old Mistress
1824 in. (45.761.0 cm.)
lower right in oil: HOMER/76 lower left in oil: HO stretcher bar verso upper center incised: 12 1/2 stretcher bar verso lower right in black ink: Geg"8/#24 back upper left in red ink: 59.84.1 (crossed out)/VISIT OF THE/OLD MISTRESS/WINSLOW HOMER back upper right in black crayon: B X 14
Credit Line
Gift of William T. Evans
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Group
  • Figure group
  • African American
  • History — United States — Black History
  • Allegory — civic — injustice
  • Architecture Interior — domestic
Object Number

Artwork Description

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