John Quincy Adams Ward
American, 1830–1910
The Freedman

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

John Quincy Adams Ward's bronze The Freedman realistically depicts the twisting, muscular body of a seminude black man seated on a tree stump. He has just broken free from the shackles that bound him to slavery; the remnants of the chains dangle from his wrist. Ward's statuette, which was originally modeled in plaster, conveys the slave's nobility through a combination of Classical proportion and physiognomic precision. The idealized body and seated pose of the figure resemble ancient sculptures from the Classical world, such as the Seated Boxer (first century B.C.).

Created around the time of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, this powerful work embodies Ward's desire to portray the injustice of slavery and the plight of the African American. The Freedman proved to be popular in the North, and numerous bronze replicas were made at three different foundries. Its popularity resulted in large part from Ward's dignified presentation of the subject. In the 1860s, freed slaves were rarely shown as responsible for their own liberation. Instead, they were often shown as being emancipated by either Abraham Lincoln or as allegories of liberty who smash the chains of bondage. By contrast, Ward's The Freedman, ready to stand and be counted, is a heroic representation and a poignant reminder of America's history.