During the 1860s and 1870s Eastman Johnson was one of America's leading specialists in genre paintings. He spent the early years of his career painting portraits, primarily in Boston and Washington, but in 1849 decided to enroll in the prestigious art academy at Düsseldorf, Germany. There he studied with the history painter Emanuel Leutze, who provided superb instruction in the fundamentals of composing multifigure subjects. Johnson subsequently spent three years in The Hague, where he made careful study of the works of the Dutch old masters, and then moved to Paris to train in the studio of Thomas Couture, another accomplished history painter.
Johnson returned to America in 1855 and settled in New York. He quickly established a reputation as a genre painter, using the technical skills he had learned in Europe to create masterful works such as Old Kentucky Homer—Life in the South, 1859 (New-York Historical Society). During the mid-1860s, he turned his attention to painting idealized views of women in various pursuits; his masterpiece among these is the beautiful Gathering Lilies. A solitary woman is shown bending down to pick the flower of a water lily from the surface of a tranquil pond with her right hand while holding other flowers in her left. Johnson perfectly captured the graceful elegance of her motion as she balances on the log and turns to grasp the stem of the flower. By using a close vantage point looking slightly downward and eliminating a view toward a distant horizon, he created an intimate environment of the pond and its banks, establishing the woman as the focus of the image.
lower right: E. Johnson / - 65
(Victor D. Spark, New York), by 1940. Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, III [1909-1992], New York, by 1972; Senator and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller IV, Charleston, West Virginia. Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., Los Angeles, by 1990; acquired 2008 by gift and purchase by NGA.
- Eastman Johnson 1832-1906: Forerunner of Homer and Eakins, Frazier Gallery, New York, 1937, no. 6.
- An American Genre Painter: Eastman Johnson, 1824-1906, Brooklyn Museum, 1940, no. 107, pl. IX.
- Romantic Painting in America, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1943, no. 116.
- Eastman Johnson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts; Cincinnati Art Museum; Milwaukee Art Center, 1972, no. 47, repro.
- Eastman Johnson: Painting America, Brooklyn Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Art; Seattle Museum of Art, 1999-2000, no. 33, repro.