Posted by: National Museum of Women in the Arts
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe’s sentimental oil paintings celebrating rural family life and events from American history appealed to popular Victorian tastes in England and the United States. Her paintings of scenes from Colonial American history appealed to her contemporaries, who sought nostalgic escape from the increasing urbanization, industrialization, and immigration around them.
The artist was born in a log cabin in rural northeastern Pennsylvania to William Brownscombe, an English-born farmer, and Elvira Kennedy, a direct descendant of a Mayflower passenger. Thus, Brownscombe’s early life was reminiscent of one of her own paintings. When her father died in 1868, Brownscombe began supporting herself through teaching and creating book and magazine illustrations.
In Thanksgiving at Plymouth, as with other American subjects, Brownscombe strove for historical accuracy, searching out portraits, documents, and other records to ensure the details. Patrons and critics of the day viewed her version of the first Thanksgiving as true to life.
Historical records certainly affirm that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn feast celebrating the colonists’ first successful harvest in 1621. Yet, their gathering would not have resembled Brownscombe’s portrayal—not least because she included anachronistic log cabins and Sioux headdresses. In reality, her representation of the iconic event reflected the idealized version of the story that entered the collective memory of the United States in the last quarter of the 19th century.
Image: Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1925; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It appears here courtesy of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
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