A Darktown Tournament --The First Tilt

John Cameron American, born Scotland
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 depicts caricatured Black (African American) people. In the foreground, two men, each holding a bucket of whitewash, use long thin poles as lances to attack each other. The man at left --dressed in a red jacket (with patched elbows), yellow vest, blue pants (with patched knees), and a yellow cap--uses his left hand to poke his long stick to remove the hat of his opponent. He is unaware that the other man at right (dressed in a blue jacket, red vest and tie, and yellow-striped pants) has aimed his pole directly into his opponent's bucket, causing it to spill its whitewash contents. In the background is a small wooden house. Standing at the window is a woman (wearing a red blouse, white skirt, yellow kerchief) holding from the window sill a sign which reads "A/ WITE WASSHER/ WANTED" [with all the "E"s reversed]. At the left, the head of a boy peers out of a side window. The title is imprinted in the bottom margin.

Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), 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 (1824–1895), the firm's accountant since 1852 and Charles's brother-in-law, was made a business partner. Subsequently renamed Currier & Ives, the firm continued via their successors until 1907.

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