Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ulrich's "In The Land of Promise"

The scene is set in Castle Garden, America's first immigrant processing facility, before it moved to Ellis Island. Eight million people passed through Castle Garden between 1855 and 1890. 

Charles Frederic Ulrich, In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden, 1884
The artist, Charles Frederic Ulrich (American, 1858 – 1908) focuses on a young mother sitting on her trunk of worldly possessions. She nurses her baby as her daughter looks off to the left. 


In the background, a man in a bowler hat tends his ailing wife. Cholera and smallpox were common in the crowded, noisy conditions of Castle Garden. In New York City itself, the conditions were not much better. 

Among these desperate people arriving in a foreign land, none were braver than the mothers. 

"The bravest battle that ever was fought!
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not;
'Twas fought by the mothers of men." 
(Read the rest of the poem)

—Joaquin Miller

10 comments:

Gary said...

Nice reminder about how we got here.

Steve said...

Thanks for this quiet combination of poetry and painting. Excellent reminders during these disorienting times. I think the nursing mother is avoiding eye contact with the pipe smoker. Incidentally, the poet, Joaquin Miller, would be an entertaining subject for a movie. Among many other things, he was a horse thief and a friend of Rossetti and the pre-Raphaelites. His biography is worth a Google/Wikipedia moment.

Susan Krzywicki said...

Thank you for posting this hopeful and poignant image. Yes, Joaquin Miller was one of our colorful California characters. He moved here and created several ruckuses.

I had never seen a painted image of immigrants that pre-dated Ellis Island, that iconic American site.

Peace be with us all.

Roberto Quintana said...

Hey Mr. Gi-
This is a great example of how art can make a powerful and poignant statement, simply by portraying an intimate yet universal image. This could very well be a portrait of my family; my Mother’s folks are Scotch/Irish/English immigrants, (my Fathers’ are Spanish/Basque/Apache). Unless your ancestry is pure Native, we are all “Immigrants… in the Land of Promise.” Let us not forget what it is that truly makes America Great!
Thanx for posting this moving painting. -RQ

Drake Gomez said...

Excellent. I'm sure you prefer to keep politics out of your blog, James, but this post is undeniably timely. Thank you.

Caro Dewor said...

Great painting and meaning, trank you!

caddisman said...

Beautiful and timely post, James, in a time that we all need to look at our history, good and bad, and come together in the here and now.

Thank you,

Bill

Kristopher Battles said...


Beautiful painting (I thought it was Gari Melchers at first, btw)

But I must say something about the "timeliness" of this post, as has been pointed out by some of the other commenters.

The presumptions or subtext of the post about this image-- that the painting preaches unlimited immigration, or that those who want to better regulate immigration (as it was back then at the image's time, btw) somehow don't believe we're the Land of Promise, or that we don't believe in immigration, are not only insulting, but shows an underlying subtle prejudice.

I apologize if that angers some.



Half of the nation-- and quite possibly more than half of your fan base-- not only believe in immigration, but in ordered, sensible immigration.

James Gurney said...

Kristopher, there's no subtext, insult, or prejudice. Although immigration has been in the news lately, it has been a theme in great artwork for a long time. As with all great artwork, I believe this painting speaks to human universals: a young family facing a new world. I believe the painting lives beyond the politics of its historical moment and of our moment, and I trust that this painting from a century and a half ago will mean different things to different people.

michael coxon said...

Kristopher
I am in complete agreement with James here.
I feel the immigrants depicted here and in other similar theme paintings were often not leaving their home country on an "ordered" and and "sensible" manner and indeed were extremely grateful to the welcome provided by the US as well as other countries (Canada , Australia, New Zealand et cetera) Who were warm and caring. A recent example would be after the Tiananmen Square massacre All Chinese students in Australia were offered asylum by the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke. (42000 students!) This is what civilized countries do in a time of crisis. So sometimes we can't just sit back and and be "ordered" and "sensible" but should be flexible and show love to these less fortunate. I believe Ulrich's painting captures that spirit.
I believe the painting conveys that spirit of welcome and the promise of hope and acceptance toward those in need. The painting offers a sense of optimism.