The Little Convalescent

about 1873–79
Eastman Johnson (American, 1824–1906)


32.38 x 27.94 cm (12 3/4 x 11 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on paperboard

On View

David and Stacey Goel Gallery (Gallery 239)





During the 1870s, Johnson frequently visited his sister Harriet May and her family, who spent summers on a farm in Kennebunkport, Maine. He often used Harriet’s children as models, capturing their carefree play. “The Little Convalescent” is probably a picture of Harriet reading to one of her children, who is sick in bed-his condition alluded to by the medicine bottles, thermometer, bell, and toothbrush in the background. While Harriet concentrates on the book, caring for her son’s mind as well as his body, the little boy turns to look at the artist. Johnson painted a number of pictures of children reading or writing, to suggest they would grow up to be thoughtful, responsible adults. The best known of these depicts the boy Abraham Lincoln-who would serve as United States president during the Civil War-reading by firelight. “The Little Convalescent” is also one of several tender pictures of mothers nurturing their children that Johnson was inspired to paint after the birth of his only child in 1870.
Johnson’s fame as a genre painter rests not only on his quiet domestic scenes but also on his series of canvases depicting maple sugar production, corn husking, and cranberry harvesting. These were all quintessential New England rustic activities, and Johnson included children in most of the compositions.

This text was adapted from Carol Troyen and Janet Comey, “Children in American Art” (Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 2007, in Japanese).


Lower left: E.J-


The artist; Mrs. Eastman Johnson, his wife; with Eastman Johnson Sale, American Art Association, New York, no. 12, Feb. 26-27, 1907; W.B. Cogswell, Syracuse, New York, 1907; descended to the Misses F. Pearl and Elizabeth Browning, Syracuse, his granddaughters, by 1920; with Norman Hirschl, New York; to MFA, 1940, purchased for $500.

Credit Line

Frederick Brown Fund