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The Freedman

Black bronze statue of African American man, shackles broken, sitting on tree stump.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Black bronze statue of African American man, shackles broken, sitting on tree stump.




John Quincy Adams Ward
American, 1830–1910

About this artwork

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 enslaved person 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 among the first naturalistic sculptural representations 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.”


Currently Off View


Arts of the Americas


John Quincy Adams Ward (Sculptor)


The Freedman


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Modeled 1863




Signed on base: J.Q.A. Ward. Scp. 1863


49.9 × 40 × 23.9 cm (19 5/8 × 15 3/4 × 9 3/8 in.)

Credit Line

Roger McCormick Endowment

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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