During the early 1860s genre painter Eastman Johnson made numerous trips to Maine from his home in New York to create studies of men and women working at maple sugar camps. His intention was to produce a large genre painting that would rival history paintings in scale and ambition, but he never succeeded in completing the work and set the project aside in 1865. The subject of On Their Way to Camp was derived from his early studies of the camps. Although his interests had previously centered on the busy activities of making the sugar, here he shows two boys towing a sled with a sap barrel through snowy woods; a third, younger boy rides atop the barrel and holds a wooden bucket. The trees around them have been tapped to gather the maple sap, and in the background is a glimpse of a wooden lean-to and the red flames of a fire. On Their Way to Camp—signed and dated "E. Johnson/1873"—is the only picture related to the sugar-making theme that Johnson seems to have regarded as fully finished and complete. In addition to being an enchanting, successful picture in its own right, it is also of particular importance in his oeuvre.
lower right: E. Johnson 1873
Miss F. Pearl Browning and Miss Elizabeth Browning, in 1940. Mr. and Mrs. Clyde M. Newhouse, New York, from at least 1972 to at least 1977; Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., Los Angeles, from at least 2004; acquired 2008 by gift and purchase by NGA.
- An American Genre Painter: Eastman Johnson, 1824-1906, Brooklyn Museum, 1940, no. 45.
- America in the 19th Century: Its People - Pleasures - And Pursuits, John Levy Galleries, New York, 1944, no. 6, repro.
- Eastman Johnson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts; Cincinnati Art Museum; Milwaukee Art Center, 1972, no. 75, repro.
- Art from Southampton Collections, Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York, 1973.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1991-1992.
- Allen, Brian T. Sugaring Off: Maple Sugar Paintings of Eastman Johnson. Exh. cat. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown; The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino. Williamstown, 2004: 48-49, fig. 26.