J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, March 06, 2015

A Modern Look at Crispus Attucks

The new Digital Public Library of America is now aggregating public-domain material from other websites. I tried a search for “Boston Massacre” and saw this image for the first time.

This image, “Crispus Attucks,” was painted by William H. Johnson (1901-1970) about 1945, which would make it one of his last works before he was institutionalized for mental illness.

It literally reflects the famous 1770 engraving of the Massacre by Henry Pelham with the soldiers lined up and firing together (on the left instead of the right) and the spires behind. But this portrayal emphasizes the civilian reaction to the soldiers, with the three lamenting women.

Johnson put Crispus Attucks alone at the center, gave him a Christ-like beard and pose, and named the painting after him. That reflects the importance of his memory in the African-American struggle for rights.

This painting is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.

1 comment:

John Johnson said...

I really like this painting. These sorts of modern interpretations of classic images really speak to me. I think another important element to this painting is the portrayal of Attucks in contemporary clothing while the portrayal of the soldiers and the grieving women is in stylized 18th century clothing.