Now on View: Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s The Present, a striking representation of a middle-aged, African-American woman, is one in a series of his paintings that explores the political and individualized implications of the Civil War and abolitionism. In this work, Noble depicts the allegorical figure as a statement on the African-American condition immediately following the end of the war. This work was painted in July of 1865, only three months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and five months before the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished the institution of slavery. Perhaps most intriguing about this work is that the status of the woman—who also appears as a model in another work by Noble—is left ambiguous for the viewer to ponder. The woman in the painting stares straight at the viewer with tired eyes as she leisurely puffs from a pipe. In the lower left corner, a bountiful, albeit messy, array of produce is strewn across the floor. Her glistening gold ring is also prominently displayed in the center foreground. These factors, in conversation with the ghostly portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the top right corner, indicate that the woman may be newly emancipated. However, the book nestled underneath her foot, which signifies her illiteracy, as well as the dilapidated interior and her shabby clothing may suggest that she is still enslaved.
This work is a recent acquisition for the museum’s collection and is currently on view in Stern Gallery where the entirety of the “Life and Art in Early America” exhibit is being shown through June of 2015.
Thomas Satterwhite Noble (American, 1835–1907)
The Present, 1865
Oil on canvas
R. T. Miller Jr. Fund and James K. (OC 1946) and Anne Fassett (OC 1947) Sunshine American Art Fund, 2014.30