Family and friends are gathered around a man in the center of a grove, he sits on the ground with the remains of a swing that has broken under his weight; others separated from the group are engaged in various romantic and mischievous pursuits. A black house servant pours a glass of an effervescent drink for Lilly Spencer, who has portrayed herself seated to the right of the festivities amid the ecouterments of the picnic.
Lilly Martin Spencer (born Angelique Marie Martin)
The original painting is in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
(November 26, 1822 – May 22, 1902) was one of the most popular and widely reproduced American female genre painters in the mid-nineteenth century. She painted domestic scenes, women and children in a warm happy atmosphere. She was a keen observer of parent /child interaction, childhood behaviour and Anglo-American citizens afraid of what they saw as threatening minority groups.
Although she did have an audience for her work Spencer had difficulties earning a living as a professional painter and was in perpetual state of financial turmoil.
Lilly was rare in the art world. Most women used art as genteel accomplishment and not as a career. Lilly, however, provides an example of a woman who pursued art as a career. In 1844 she married Benjamin R. Spencer and over the following 46 years the Spencers had thirteen children, seven of whom grew to maturity. Although many feared that matrimony would end her career as an artist, it did not; she would become the most popular and widely reproduced female genre painter of the mid-19th century
, but as the family breadwinner the family struggled with finiancial difficulty for most of her career.
Her work included portraits of influential people of the time, such as First Lady Caroline Harrison and the suffraget Elizabeth Stanton. Throughout the 1860's the Civil War changed the outlook of many artists, including Spencer. Her paintings become more thoughtful and included more patriotic themes and titles such as this notable example.