Each year on the fourth Thursday of November, a very special North American holiday takes place, and that holiday is Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving season is known throughout the country as a time to delight in the presence of loved ones and enjoy a plethora of delicious food. A favorite holiday of many Americans, Thanksgiving inspires décor, recipes, movies, and even art.
Thanksgiving dates back to 1621, when it is assumed the first Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth. This early event was a celebration of an abundant harvest. Numerous artists throughout history have attempted to capture the imagined scenes from the first Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving has been the subject of many pieces of fine art for centuries. Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, “American painter and illustrator of Americana,” painted several Thanksgiving-themed scenes, including The First Thanksgiving (1915), The Mayflower Compact (1925), The Return of Miles Standish (1920), The Return of the Mayflower (1907), and The First Sermon Ashore (1921). Although The First Thanksgiving is said to be inaccurate in some of its representations, it gives us an idea of what the actual scene might have looked like so long ago.
Ferris was not the only individual whose art was influenced by Thanksgiving – Charles Lucy, George Henry Boughton, Henry A. Bacon, Henry Sargent, and Edward Percy Moran also found inspiration in this holiday. Jennie Augusta Brownscombe painted a particularly iconic work titled The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914). This painting has “become a symbol of the holiday for many Americans.”
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth was executed by Brownscombe during the Colonial Revival Period. It is a tranquil, believable depiction of that first holiday that would come to mean so much to so many. This is an example of how art can help us imagine a significant historical event, deepening the overall meaning of it.
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