The Way They Live

Thomas Anshutz American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 762

Born in Kentucky and raised in West Virginia, Thomas Anshutz moved to Brooklyn in 1871. During that turbulent decade, a number of artists painted images of African American life with varying degrees of naturalism and stereotyping. Here, Anshutz embraces the former, portraying a woman and two children in a well-tended patch of tobacco. The mountain setting suggests the painting may be based on a scene observed on the artist’s travels around West Virginia. While produced after the end of Reconstruction, both the depicted family unity and the financial independence they could derive from the tobacco cash-crop reveal a more nuanced commentary on their situation. Nevertheless, the painting’s title underlines the distance between the presumed White middle-class viewer and the Black laboring subject.

The Way They Live, Thomas Anshutz (American, Newport, Kentucky 1851–1912 Fort Washington, Pennsylvania), Oil on canvas, American

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