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John Brown's Blessing

Object Name: History
Date: 1867
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Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Unframed: 7 ft. 1/4 in. × 60 1/4 in. (214 × 153 cm) Framed: 7 ft. 5 in. × 65 in. × 2 in. (226.1 × 165.1 × 5.1 cm)
Description: John Brown (1800-1859) of Osawatomie, being led to his execution at Charleston, Virginia, December 2, 1859. Brown stops to bless a young black child held forward by a kneeling mother. Two white children, accompanied by their black nurse, look on. Surrounded by soldiers, his arms bound, Brown stands tall and resolute but turns a gentle gaze on the child.
Credit Line: Gift of the children of Thomas S. Noble and Mary C. Noble, in their memory
Object Number: 1939.250
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Inscribed: Inscribed on back of canvas: T. S. Noble and John Brown / by T. S. Noble / C[incinnati], U.S. A.

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In 1859, John Brown's planned slave uprising, raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and subsequent execution galvanized the nation. Abolitionists celebrated him as a martyr to the antislavery cause while southern whites denounced him and his northern supporters. Thomas S. Noble's heroic life-size painting depicts Brown's apocryphal last act: kissing a slave child on the way to the gallows. To commemorate the eighth anniversary of Brown's execution, John Brown's Blessing was publicly exhibited in Boston, where it received a lukewarm reception. A local newspaper reported: "[The anniversary was] appropriately commemorated by the presentation to the Boston public of T. S. Noble's picture of Brown's passage to the Scaffold, when he stopped on his way to bless a negro child… Mr. Noble is a Southerner, and served in the rebel army four years, but he regarded the execution of Brown as one of the great historic events of the century, and has lost friends and position at home by representing SO unwelcome a matter to the South… We can hardly call it a great picture; yet there is much food for reflection and observation in it...."


Rasmussen, William M. S. and Robert S. Tilton. Lee and Grant. Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007.

Holzer, Harold and The New-York Historical Society. "The Civil War in 50 Objects." New York: Viking, 2013.


Exhibited at the Vienna Exposition, n.d.

"John Brown: The Abolitionist and His Legacy," New-York Historical Society, September 15, 2009–March 25, 2010.

"Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy," New-York Historical Society, November 11, 2011–September 9, 2012; Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, OH, September 20, 2013–January 12, 2014; Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA, February 13, 2014–May 19, 2014; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN, February 27, 2015–June 7, 2015; Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA, March 5, 2016–June 19, 2016.

"The Works: Salon Style at the New-York Historical Society," New-York Historical Society, June 20, 2014–February 08, 2015.