Eastman Johnson, “The Barefoot Boy” and George C. Lambdin, “Wild Fruit.” Boston: L. Prang & Co., 1867-69. Each 12 3/4 x 9 3/4. Mounted on boards with original labels. Some minor surface blemishes and wear, but overall very good condition. In period wood frames.
A pair of original antique prints, chromolithographic facsimiles of classic paintings of American children published by Louis Prang. Prang was the most prolific and influential American publisher of chromolithographs intended to duplicate the appearance of paintings. About 1870, Prang started to issue color-printed copies of famous paintings and launched his magazine, Prang’s Chromo: A Journal of Popular Art. Prang’s prints, which were “sold in all Picture stores,” were based on oils and watercolors and received highly praised from the press and many influential persons. More than any other print publisher, Prang created the market for chromolithographs in America, and his work was highly influential on firms around the country. With great success, Prang issued about 800 such art prints.
Eastman Johnson’s “The Barefoot Boy” is one of the most famous of all Prang’s chromos, advertised by Prang the personification of the American character, the boy “in homespun clothing, barefooted,” symbolizing “that self-reliant aspect which characterizes the rural and backwoods children.” This print was based by Eastman Johnson on John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “The Barefoot Boy.” The chromo was praised in magazines and books as the paradigm of what these prints could be, and Prang claimed that it was “the most popular of all our publications.” It took three months to make the twenty-six stones used to make this print, and five months to print the first run. For promotion, Prang provided free copies to the poet and painter and then quoted their replies in his advertisements. Whittier wrote, “It is a charming illustration of my little poem, and in every way satisfactory as a work of art,” and Johnson claimed that, “It strikes me as being one of the best chromolithographs I have ever seen.”
Prang was inspired by the popularity of Johnson’s “The Barefoot Boy” to commission a companion image from George C. Lambdin. Lambdin was an artist from Germantown, PA, who later moved to New York City where he was elected an Academician at the National Academy. Lambdin painted genre and military scenes, but later in his life he devoted his time to paintings of flowers. This Lambdin painting shows a shy girl, also barefoot, leaning on a tree and holding a hand-full of grapes. This image, entitled “Wild Fruit,” was published as a companion chromolithograph by Prang two years after Johnson’s barefoot boy. The prints, in matching period frames, make a lovely pair that beautifully express the ideal image of American youth held by many after the Civil War. These prints also are wonderful examples of the quality of prints published by the greatest of American chromolithograph publishers.