Urgent Museum Notice

The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic

Close up of The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic

A chubby, light-skinned man in a white suit sprawls on the ground atop a wooden swing seat and frayed rope. A mirthful group of men, women, and children surround him. In the right foreground, a dark-skinned servant watching these antics splashes liquid on a surly older woman.

Lilly Martin Spencer, The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic, ca. 1864; Oil on canvas, 49 1/2 x 63 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Given in memory of Muriel Gucker Hahn by her loving husband, William Frederick Hahn, Jr. Conservation funds generously provided by the Florida State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic
Lilly Martin Spencer

Lilly Martin Spencer’s The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic depicts an idyllic genre scene in which well-dressed, middle-class Americans celebrate their country’s independence by eating, drinking, and entertaining one another.

The painter’s husband, Benjamin, sprawls on the ground at the center of the scene, his weight apparently too much for the tree swing. Though most of the assembled crowd seems highly amused by his fall, a child attempts to help him up.  A woman with arms outstretched, an image of the artist herself, comes to his aid from the left.

On one level, this painting is exactly what it seems: a charming scene that pokes fun at human foibles. However, recent scholarship has suggested that Spencer’s painting is also an allegorical commentary on the state of the nation and the abolition of slavery. According to this interpretation, Benjamin’s undignified pose and the general merriment that greets his accident indicate a lack of respect for traditional authority.

Additionally, the black male servant at the right distractedly pours a glass of wine onto a white woman’s dress; his female counterpart looks away from the baby in her charge; a boy shoots a pistol into the air; and a young woman models a soldier’s cap. All of these vignettes can be read as symbols of societal upheaval.

Artwork Details

  • Artist

    Lilly Martin Spencer
  • Title

    The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic
  • Date

    ca. 1864
  • Medium

    Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions

    49 1/2 x 63 in.
  • Donor Credit

    Given in memory of Muriel Gucker Hahn by her loving husband, William Frederick Hahn, Jr. Conservation funds generously provided by the Florida State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
  • Photo Credit

    Lee Stalsworth
  • On Display

    No