The picture Back from the Orchard by Eastman Johnson, one of the most eminent and prolific artists of the nineteenth century, was painted in 1876. According to the traditions of the painter it represents oil on board. This very feature is peculiar for art of this period and for Eastman Johnson in particular.
The artwork shows a moment from life of ordinary rural citizen. A boy of twelve-thirteen years old seems to be back from the orchard. Red-ripe apples peeking from his pockets and hands make viewer think that this visit was rather effective. Moreover, one can suggest that the boy went to someone else’s garden otherwise he would not have taken so many apples at ones. The boy is very hungry. The emotions on his face and greed which he expresses biting the apple clearly emphasize this idea. Besides, the eyes of the hero on the picture seem to be frightened. He is scared to be caught by the owner of orchard. At the same time he feels shame as he stole those apples. Eastman Johnson adds a little bit of pink tint on boy’s cheeks to reveal this. Feelings of hunger and fear fight against each other in boy’s mind. That is why he stands still making no noise and eats very quickly as this can be his rare food. The fact that he is from poor family viewer can see looking at the boy’s clothes. It is rather simple, made of dark cloth and even dirty a little bit. Moreover, its size does not correspond the age of the boy. The trousers seem to be remodeled from those for older man. To the contrary his shirt is too small, its sleeves and shirttail are short enough to be comfortable. However, the boy does not think about it too much. He is worried how to feed himself and not to be cought.
Eastman Johnson uses dark colours to describe difficult lifestyle of rural people and especially children. Dark brown together with dark grey symbolize sorrow and sympathy to the young boy. On the other hand the artist uses soft paint in order to smooth viewer’s perception of the plot. Pleasant view softens thoughts in mind and those who look at the picture do not consider boy to be criminal. His sweet pink cheeks make him look like little pickle, very sharp and very smart.
Depiction of simple and spontaneous scenes from life of ordinary people is combined into a series of wonderful artworks of Eastman Johnson. Of course, they differ from those depicting gorgeous and ceremonious American presidents. Nevertheless, they are very touching as there is nothing in the word that catches human attention and conquers human heart as life simplicity. The boy from Back from the Orchard as other characters from pictures of this series is innocent person. Innocence can be seen in his gestures when he tries to hold stolen apples tight. It is on his cheeks and big clear eyes through which his soul can be seen as well.
Despite the fact that Eastman Johnson painted scenes from real life his pictures contain symbolic features. The artwork Back from the Orchard is not an exception. Apples that from the first sight may seem an additional detail play the key role here. First of all these fruits represent food so needed by poor people. For thousands of piligrims who came to another continent searching for better life apples are a sign of prosperity and welfare which they felt lack of in the Old World. The period of American history during which Eastman Johnson has painted the picture was difficult for new settlers. They had to get used to new simple life conditions. Even now there is an expression “as American as apple pie”. The boy on the picture is kind of this person, simple, sincere, and innocent.
The figure of the boy is in the center of the picture. However, it does not mean that he is a lonely personnage. He is the central figure. Life of that time is concentrated around such little hooligan who is believed to create the future of American society. Of course, it does not mean that it would be a country of thieves. A ray of light coming from the left side of the picture is a symbol of hope for better life and better future.