Eastman Johnson stands out among his contemporaries as a leader in the tradition of American genre painting, an art form that had emerged in the United States in the early 19th century. Rather than painting the sublime American landscape as practiced by Frederic Church (1826-1900) and Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Johnson chose an alternative means of visual patriotism and devoted himself to accurately portraying the people and places that surrounded him.
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The presence of dense woods and a snow-covered landscape in The Wood Chopper, painted in 1868, lead one to speculate that it was inspired by one of Johnson’s visits to Maine during the decade. As with much of his genre work, the scene is a quiet tribute to American industriousness expressed through Johnson’s attention to detail in rendering the play of sunlight and shadow on the landscape, the pieces of wood strewn across the snow, and the individuality of the subject himself. The care Johnson took transcribing these elements, along with the sturdy posture of the man and the sense of pride he conveys in accomplishing a difficult but essential chore of rural life, demonstrate the respect the artist felt for his fellow Americans who inhabit his paintings. This quality was praised by collectors and critics: “There is magic at the end of an artist’s pencil when he portrays, in the right spirit, the scenes and the types of his native land….Under the heartfelt nationalism which everybody can see and appreciate in Eastman Johnson’s pictures, lies a sincere and laborious devotion to truth, born of the love of work.” The Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, has in its permanent collection a larger painting of a woodsman created during the same time period as The Wood Chopper.
 ‘The Value of Nationalism in Art,” by Edward King. The Monthly Illustrator, June 1895, pp. 265-268.
Antiques dealer, Boston, Massachusetts
To Vose Galleries, Boston, inventory no. 20325, February 1961
To private collection, Westwood, Massachusetts, February 1961
By gift to collector’s son, Westwood, Massachusetts, 2013 to present
Previous Vose Galleries label, inventory no. 20325