About This Artwork

John Quincy Adams Ward
American, 1830–1910

The Freedman, 1862–63

49.9 x 40 x 23.9 cm (19 5/8 x 15 3/4 x 9 3/8 in.)
Signed: "J.Q.A. Ward. Scp. 1863"

Roger McCormick Endowment, 1998.1

A leader among the nation’s second generation of sculptors, John Quincy Adams Ward played a significant role in elevating the medium in the United States, calling for a new realism to address moral concerns. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s 1862–63 Emancipation Proclamation, The Freedman reflects not only Ward’s aspiration to create relevant statements on pressing issues of the day but also his abolitionist sentiments. Using antiquity as his inspiration, he depicted a seminude man seated on a tree stump who has just been liberated from the shackles that bound him to slavery. Ward broke artistic convention by showing the former slave as master of his own destiny, not a man reliant on white men for freedom. The vestiges of chains, potent symbols of his bondage, dangle from both wrists, and his muscular body, turned to look over his shoulder, is contained within a formal, triangular composition. The Freedman was modeled from life and is generally considered the first and most accurate sculptural representation of an African American. Shortly after The Freedman was first exhibited in 1863, art critic James Jackson Jarves effectively summarized the work’s power: “We have seen nothing in our sculpture more soul-lifting or more comprehensively eloquent. It tells in one word the whole sad story of slavery and the bright story of emancipation.”

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

Judith A. Barter et al, American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1998), pp. 193-195, no. 88.

Clare Kunny and Andrew Walker, “Introduction,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 27, 1 (2001), pp. 4-6.

Angela Miller, “Albert Bierstadt, Landscape Aesthetics, and the Meanings of the West in the Civil War Era,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 27, 1 (2001), pp. 40-41, 57-59.

Kirk Savage, “Molding Emancipation: John Quincy Adams Ward’s The Freedman and the Meaning of the Civil War,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 27, 1 (2001), pp. 26-39, fig. 2.

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