Preparing for Christmas (Plucking Turkeys)

Francis William Edmonds American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 736

Born in Hudson, New York, Edmonds is one of few known nineteenth-century American painters who pursued dual careers in art and business, becoming an influential figure in the interrelated spheres of banking, politics, and culture in New York City. A regular contributor to the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibitions, Edmonds made his reputation with popular genre scenes such as this work, inspired by seventeenth-century Dutch painting. "Preparing for Christmas" represents a seasonal activity on a farm. While two White men pluck turkeys for the holiday feast—unperturbed by the winter cold—a younger Black figure, positioned between them, inattentively warms his hands.

In the tumultuous decade of the 1850s, when the United States was debating the expansion of slavery into new Western territories, Edmonds and other New York artists often painted works with conspicuously placed African Americans. Generally portrayed as humorous subjects, some were depicted with greater empathy. Edmonds, while educated in Quaker schools with a presumably abolitionist sensibility, here seems to emphasize the Black character’s lack of productivity when compared to the White workers. The painting was featured in the 1852 auction of the American Art-Union, a subscription-based organization that promoted American art nationally through exhibitions and the distribution of popular prints.

Preparing for Christmas (Plucking Turkeys), Francis William Edmonds (American, Hudson, New York 1806–1863 Bronxville, New York), Oil on canvas, American

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