Dance or Ball, White Sulfur Springs, Virginia, 1838


North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh. Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, accession number 52.9.23. Copyright held by the NCMA which must be contacted for reproduction rights.


Titled Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, 1838, this oil painting was made by Christian Freidrich Mayr (1803-1851), a German born painter who migrated to America in the early 1830ís. He worked a great deal in the South as an itinerant artist specializing in scenes of everyday life, but earned a living by painting portraits; he died in New York City. In 1838, he visited White Sulfur Springs, a popular mountain resort for wealthy Virginians and other Southern whites. Kitchen ball may represent some sort of celebration, but it can merely be a normal weekend dance and the formal attire of the participants (particularly the central figures dressed in white) may reflect artistic license and embellishment. On the right a fiddler sits on a bench; on one side of him a man plays a flute and on the other side an unseen person plays what appears to be a cello. Although writers often characterize this painting as a slave ball or dance, the people shown may have included free domestic servants as well as slaves attending their wealthy owners on holiday. Frederick Marryat, the English writer, visited White Sulphur Springs (today, located in West Virginia) in 1838 and noted the presence of a large number of negro servants here attending their masters and mistresses. During his visit he encountered Mayr who had painted a kitchen-dance in Old Virginia, and in the picture he had introduced all the well-known coloured people in the place; Jules Zanger, ed., Captain Frederick Marryat, Diary in America (Indiana University Press, 1960), pp. 272-273. Also, E. Johns, American Genre Painting (Yale University Press, 1991), pp. 114, 231n19; H. M. Kastinger Riley, Christian Friedrich Mayr, The Magazine Antiques (November 1998); J. A. Cuthbert , Early Art and Artists in West Virginia (West Virginia University Press, 2000), 213. Thanks to Angela Bell-Morris for her assistance; and to Kelley Deetz for bringing this painting to our attention.

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