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Caught Napping (Boys Caught Napping in a Field)

The New Yorker George Washington Strong commissioned this humorous narrative of lazy boys about to be punished to evoke a childhood memory of rural Long Island. The idlers represented his brothers, and the farmer is his father. The scene is set in Setauket, near Stony Brook, with the Strong house and farm seen in the distance. The sentimental theme of a country boyhood became one of the most popular subjects for American genre painters after the Civil War, when urban centers increasingly drew people away from their native rural environments. William Sidney Mount's characterization of these country boys as mischievous (they have been playing cards) distinguishes his portrayal from the sentimental sweetness that characterizes later images. The potential hazards for their indolence are pointed up by Mount's emblematic use to an ominous goat's skull affixed to the tree above them and by the switch carried by their father.

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