Lilly Martin Spencer (American, 1822–1902)
Oil on canvas
29 1/2 x 24 3/4 in. (74.9 x 62.9 cm)
Private collection, Promised Gift to The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Spencer took a comic approach to mid-century social anxieties, especially in portraying her favorite subject: the roles of men and women. This befuddled young man ineptly attempts to do the food shopping for his new household. The appearance of a leering, grinning gentleman and sheepish servant girl in the background redouble his embarrassment as a chicken tumbles from his basket. Although men often did the grocery shopping in Ohio, where Spencer spent her early married life, this task would have been unheard of in the East. New York viewers, who could have seen this painting at the National Academy of Design in spring 1854, would have been amused and perplexed. Indeed, the press deemed Young Husband offensive to some because it ridiculed publicly the man's gentility and competence.