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Uncle Tom and Little Eva

Detroit Institute of Arts


Norman Kleeblatt considers the minority status of Duncanson significant in interpreting Uncle Tom and Little Eva :

“Neither the defiant models of current cultural critique nor earlier assimilationist paradigms adequately work to untangle the complexities of the artists’ social dilemmas or their aesthetic strategies. Instead, the choice of nationalist literary subjects and conservative artistic styles must be read as operating somewhere in between resistant affirmation of cultural specificity and total accommodation to the host culture.”

“Duncanson’s painting and its assimilationist objectives have elicited differing opinions from critics. One early writer severely criticized the work, citing the crude rendering and the common, even stereotypical, quality of the black protagonist. Recently, David M. Lubin has read the picture as evidence of the artist’s struggle between the need to please his white patrons and his desire to assert his own African American identity.* And Frances Pohl has convincingly demonstrated that, in the way it so closely follows  the text [of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852], the painting maintains Stowe’s patronizing attitude toward Tom.** Although nineteenth-century attitudes toward the Other seem to have necessitated a significant accommodation to the host culture on the part of the outsider, the minority artist could express group pride by clever selection of subject matter. But the appropriative use of master texts to validate alterity must be seen as simultaneously clever and accommodating.”

*David M. Lubin, Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 120.

**Frances Pohl in Stephen Eisenman, Nineteenth-Century Art: A Critical History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994), 167.

Norman L. Kleeblatt, “Master Narratives/Minority Artists,” Art Journal, vol. 57, no. 3 (Autumn 1998): 30, 32.

About the Artist

Born: Fayette, NY, 1821
Died: Detroit, MI, 21 December 1872
Nationality: American