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Illustration for "George Washington Jones: A Christmas Gift That Went A-Begging"

Edward Henry Potthast

American Art

This drawing illustrates a scene from a sentimental novel about a young African American orphan in Reconstruction-era New Orleans. The title character, George, dresses to present himself as a Christmas gift to potential employers in emulation of his late, enslaved grandfather, who had been given to the master’s daughter. Although the novel portrays George as a plucky and industrious hero, it also suggests that African Americans were content to follow old patterns of servitude, perpetuating a stereotype that assuaged some white readers’ anxieties about racial tensions following the Civil War.

In the drawing, Edward Potthast sensitively captured George’s humble circumstances and complex emotions with careful attention to telling details, such as the crumbling wall in the cramped garret and the too-short jacket sleeve. The boy’s erect posture and uptilted head convey determination, but his reflected expression in the mirror is apprehensive. The strong contrast in lighting further enhances the narrative drama, while also foretelling what is presented in the novel as a brighter future for George.
MEDIUM Watercolor, charcoal and white crayon on cream, medium-weight, slightly textured wove paper.
DATES 1903
DIMENSIONS Sheet: 19 3/4 x 14 13/16 in. (50.2 x 37.6 cm) Image: 14 1/16 x 8 7/8 in. (35.7 x 22.5 cm)  (show scale)
SIGNATURE Signed in charcoal, lower right, "E. Potthast"
CREDIT LINE Peter F. Schofield Fund
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Reproduced as an illustration in Ruth McEnery Stuart, "George Washington Jones: A Christmas Gift That Went A-Begging" (Philadelphia: Henry Altemus Company, 1903), facing p. 28, with the caption, "'Wush't I was a little purtier,' he lamented."
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Edward Henry Potthast (American, 1857–1927). Illustration for "George Washington Jones: A Christmas Gift That Went A-Begging," 1903. Watercolor, charcoal and white crayon on cream, medium-weight, slightly textured wove paper., Sheet: 19 3/4 x 14 13/16 in. (50.2 x 37.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Peter F. Schofield Fund, 33.392 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 33.392_PS1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 33.392_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2007
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RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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