I went to see The Civil War and American Art exhibit a few days ago at the American Art Museum. It was awesome.
That's Negro Life at the South by Eastman Johnson. The original is being shown at the exhibit. This painting blew me away. There's a lot going on in this image, but look at the skin tones of its characters: some people have light skin, some have dark skin, and one--on the far right--has skin light enough to pass for a white woman. Clearly, she does pass, given the type and color of dress she's in. Why is she here, then, if she's white? Perhaps her father was white, her mother was black, and she's visiting her family.
Whatever the case may be, the image has an amazing point: that race isn't innate, but constructed. What does whiteness mean, in this painting? Blackness? The distinction is arbitrary and, in this world, haunted by the unseen presence of a white master, tyrannical.
This sort of commentary is still meaningful, but Negro Life at the South was released in 1857. 1857!