Eastman Johnson was a painter born in the United States of America in the year 1824 in the town of Lowell in the state of Maine. His father was an eminent politician appointed to the office of secretary of the state of Maine. Johnson was referred to as the American version of Rembrandt during his lifetime for the similarities between his work and those of the famous dutch painter.
Johnson began his artistic career in Boston as an apprentice to a lithographer. During his apprenticeship Johnson started drawing and painting portraits. By the age of twenty he had outgrown his apprenticeship and moved to Washington D.C. where he made money by drawing portraits of politicians and historical figures. In 1846 he moved back to Boston, New England. He remained in Boston for another three years as a relatively obscure painter before travelling to Europe in 1849.
Eastman made his way to the town of Düsseldorf, Germany,which had become a worldwide hub of artistic learning at the time. He studied at the Düsseldorf school of painting until 1851 when he started working as an apprentice in the workshop of world famous artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. It was at this time that he completed his first major masterpiece, a portrait of Washington Whittredge. He left Düsseldorf for the Hague in the Netherlands where he studied dutch painters and art extensively. Next Johnson travelled to Paris, France in 1855 to learn from famous French painter Thomas Couture before returning home to the United States.
Eastman next went to Lake Superior in the state of Wisconsin, where he spent time among the Ojibwe painting pictures and portraits of them, one of the first white men to do so, helping to spread greater understanding of Native American culture. He then travelled to New York city in 1859 to set up a permanent art studio.
Eastman Johnson gained fame when he exhibited his famous painting named Negro Life at the South, at the National Academy of Design. This earned him a position as an associate with the National Academy, and soon afterwards he was appointed as an Academy Academician.
Eastman was accepted as a member of the Union League Club of New York in 1860. He eventually married in his mid fifties and settled in New York permanently for the remainder of his life. Perhaps his greatest achievement is being one of the original founders of one of the world's foremost art museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in New York. The museum still exists today and attracts tourists and art enthusiasts from all around the world. He and his wife had a single daughter and Eastman finally passed away in Brooklyn, New York at the advanced age of eighty one.
Eastman was known for his extremely realistic style and intimate portrayals of individuals. He painted in a variety of styles, doing portraits of famous and historical figures like the United States President, but he was also an accomplished landscape painter, often painting scenes from his New England Birthplace. He is especially remembered for his intimate and accurate portrayal of the Ojibwe in his portraits. These paintings helped show America a less stereotyped and more real version of the Native Americans. His most famous work is undoubtedly the complex and detailed painting, Negro Life at the South, which was painted just prior to the American Civil War at a time of high racial tensions in the United States. He was one of the only painters of the time to portray African Americans as a diverse, culturally rich, and educated people.
Eastman painted many famous paintings of politicians, celebrities, and historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the playwright Nathaniel Hawthorne, and George Washington.