A Literary Debate in the Darktown Club: The Question Settled

Thomas B. Worth American
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 two caricatured Black (African American) men, who were antagonistic debators, seated on the wooden stage floor after their heated debate ended in a fight. They are surrounded by broken objects. At left, a fat man --wearing pinkish-white/red striped pants and a jacket and shirt in tatters -- has a picture of George Washington smashed over his head. At right, a thin, white-haired man --wearing light blue-green pants, a white shirt, and a blue jacket in tatters-- sits on a poster as he holds his head in his hands. On the wall behind them, two framed portraits hang askew: a portrait of "A. Linkum" (left) with a small tattered U.S. flag; and a portrait of U.S. Grant (right). A police constable enters the back of the stage from a central door. The title is imprinted in the bottom margin. This print is the sequel to its companion print "A Literary Debate in the Darktown Club: Settling the Question" (see accession number 52.632.22).

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. The artist of this print is Thomas Worth, a prolific nineteenth-century illustrator who excelled at drawing horses and other subjects, many of which were made into lithographs published by Currier & Ives; he also drew many of the Darktown images.

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