Dressing for the Carnival is a genre oil on canvas artwork painted by Winslow Homer in 1877. The painting depicts the carnival season of African Americans in the South and shows how African Americans interwove various cultural traditions after emancipation. The central figure being dressed as Harlequin, a clown and social outcast from European comic theater, has strips of cloth sewn to the costume. These cloth strips derive from African ceremonial dress and Jonkonnu festival, where slaves left their quarters to dance at their master’s house.
Homer’s painting portrays African Americans without stereotypes, which were flooded during Reconstruction after the American Civil War. He visited Petersburg, Virginia in the mid-1870s and painted several scenes based on his experience there. “Dressing for the Carnival” represents one such scene where he captures how African Americans participated in carnival season through diverse cultural influences.
The artwork is on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York City, NY US. “Dressing for the Carnival” is an excellent depiction of Homer’s unique style that blends social narrative and realism with powerful imagery to create striking compositions that still captivate audiences today.