Major nineteenth-century genre painter, portraitist, and chronicler of American life, Eastman Johnson first visited Nantucket in 1869, and soon took up seasonal residence on island, purchasing a home and artist studio on North Road (now Cliff Road) in the area known as The Cliff—on the North Shore facing Nantucket Sound. The artist’s island sojourns would inspire some of his most enduring works, including his masterpiece, The Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket (1880).
With the completion of The Cranberry Harvest, the artist turned his attention to portraiture, taking advantage of the community of grizzled veterans of the sea who haunted Nantucket in the twilight of the nineteenth century. Living on The Cliff surrounded by neighbors who included retired mariners, civic officials, and practicing artists, Johnson used many of his new island acquaintances as the subjects of his paintings.
During the post-whaling era of the 1870s–90s, other prominent American artists were drawn to Nantucket for its antiquated charm and picturesque vistas. Major contemporaries of Johnson’s such as George Inness and William Trost Richards visited the island— joining the ranks of Nantucket-descended talents such as W. Ferdinand Macy, as well as Johnson’s friend and neighbor John Alexander MacDougall Jr.—in portraying the island’s lush natural settings, interesting characters, and alluring seascapes and landscapes.