The Young Artist

Thomas Mickell Burnham (American, 1818-1866)

Currently on View in K212
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  • Burnham’s children reflect the youthful energy and sense of fun that Americans believed characterized their nation.
  • Unlike some of his colleagues, Burnham portrayed the black figure as an important participant in the scene.
American Genre Painter in the Antebellum North

After completing some informal art training, Boston-born Thomas Mickell Burnham made his first trip abroad. When he returned, he took up sign painting and then opened a portrait studio, since portraiture was a lucrative practice. Success at this profession allowed Burnham to travel to Scotland in 1839. Upon his return, he began concentrating on genre and landscape painting in addition to portraiture. In the mid-nineteenth century, Burnham painted his most famous work The Lewis and Clark Expedition mostly from his imagination.

The Young Artist was meant to appeal to the Boston public in many ways. It was humorous, and its moral tone was defined and clarified by the verse that accompanied it, which read, “Fair lady, turn not by in scorn, At talent to the pencil born, Genius knows naught of age or clime, ‘Tis God's own mind – ‘tis all divine.” The painting appealed to abolitionists in its quiet depiction of America's children, the country's future, putting aside issues of race to play together. The painting embodies the prevailing philosophy of America at the time as a young nation full of youthful energy and fun, where everyone can enjoy the fruits of honest labor and still have time for leisure.

Williams, H. Warner, Jr. Mirror to American Past: A Survey of American Genre Painting: 1750-1900. New York Graphic Society, 1973.


Object Information

Thomas Mickell Burnham (American, 1818-1866)
creation date
oil on canvas
36 x 29 in.
40-5/8 x 33-1/2 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Martha Delzell Memorial Fund
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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