This is one of several scenes Homer painted after visiting Petersburg, Virginia, in the mid-1870s. The interweaving of cultural traditions by African Americans after emancipation is suggested by the central figure’s costume. Onto the traditional raiment of Harlequin, the clown and social outcast of European comic theater, a woman is sewing strips of cloth that derived from African ceremonial dress and from the slave festival of Jonkonnu. After the Civil War, aspects of Jonkonnu were often incorporated into Independence Day celebrations—to which the painting’s original title, Sketch—4th of July in Virginia, referred.
Signature: [at lower right]: WINSLOW HOMER N.A. / 1877
the artist, until 1879; sale, Kurtz Gallery, New York, 9 Apr. 1879, no. 107; the artist, by 1892; Thomas B. Clarke, New York, 1892–1899; sale, American Art Galleries, New York, 14 Feb. 1899, no. 86; N. C. Matthews, Baltimore, 1899–after 1911; with Kraushaar Galleries, New York, 1922