Fourth of July Mayhem, c. 1864


At first glance, this painting shows Lilly Martin Spencer (the artist) having a jovial Fourth of July picnic with her family. But look closer and you will find societal upheaval and mayhem everywhere! That is her husband Benjamin who fell from the swing and is getting no respect. In the right foreground, a male slave pours a glass of wine onto a woman’s dress and the female slave is not focusing on the baby. A boy is shooting a pistol in the air and a young woman is dressing in a soldier’s cap. We are at the tail end of the Civil War in America, and societal traditions are being rewritten.

Source: National Museum of Women in the Arts.

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