Darktown Society -- On Their Manners

Publisher Currier & Ives American

Not on view

The late nineteenth-century Darktown prints by Currier & Ives depict racist stereotypes that are offensive and disturbing. The Metropolitan Museum of Art preserves such works to shed light on their historical context and to enable the study and evaluation of racism.

This print caricatures a Black (African American) couple at a party. At left, the woman, wearing an elegant, ruffled evening dress and long white gloves (her hair adorned by a pink rose), holds a bouquet of flowers in her right hand, and an oversized fan in her left hand. She smiles in greeting at a formally-attired man (sporting a debonair mustache) who bows to her. A pink upholstered chair is behind her (and another is opposite). Between them, a small basin fountain (resting on two caryatids) spouts low jets of water. In the left and right background, in the ballroom beyond the partition, other guests are dancing. A potted palm is placed against the wall at right. The title is imprinted in the bottom margin.

Nathaniel Currier, whose successful New York-based lithography firm began in 1835, produced thousands of prints in various sizes that together create a vivid panorama of mid-to-late nineteenth century American life and its history. People eagerly acquired such lithographs featuring picturesque scenery, rural and city views, ships, railroads, portraits, hunting and fishing scenes, domestic life and numerous other subjects, as an inexpensive way to decorate their homes or business establishments. As the firm expanded, Nathaniel included his younger brother Charles in the business. In 1857, James Merritt Ives (the firm's accountant since 1852 and Charles's brother-in-law) was made a business partner; subsequently renamed Currier & Ives, the firm continued until 1907.

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