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New Discoveries about "A Pastoral Visit" by Richard Norris Brooke (National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection)

Sarah Cash, consulting curator, department of American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art, and former Bechhoefer Curator of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art. Richard Norris Brooke enjoyed a long and successful artistic career in Washington, DC. Active in almost every local arts organization, the painter served as vice principal of the Corcoran School of Art from 1902 to 1918. Of the numerous paintings by Brooke that represent African American life in rural northern Virginia, A Pastoral Visit (1881) is the most celebrated. Purchased by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1881 and now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, the work depicts an elderly minister seated at a table with a family of parishioners. The artist portrayed the figures in this large canvas with a degree of humanity and dignity rare in 19th-century images of African Americans, which Brooke criticized as “works of flimsy treatment and vulgar exaggeration.” He grouped the highly individualized figures as a tight domestic unit engaged in a cultural activity important to white and black families alike. In this lecture, delivered on May 14, 2015 as part of the Works in Progress series, Sarah Cash examines this fascinating genre scene in detail, revealing new discoveries and ongoing research about where and when it was painted in Warrenton, Virginia.