In nineteenth-century painting, African Americans are often associated with music and dance. (See Christian Mayr’s Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, also in the Museum’s collection.) In The Musicale Thomas Hicks depicts an impromptu concert in the barbershop of a summer resort in upstate New York. Occupying a separate building on the hotel grounds, the shop was a male preserve, women by custom keeping a respectful distance. The dignified man frozen in mid-song is the hotel’s barber, William Brister. Among the accompanying musicians is a black fiddler who, like the barber, is rendered with none of the usual racial stereotyping. Even so, it is obvious the black men are not guests but employees of the hotel. It is only their musical talent that justifies their prominence in the picture.
tags: performance, instruments