William Sidney Mount specialised in scenes of everyday life, known as genre paintings. He was one of the earliest American artists to do so, and his compositions, including Bar-room Scene, were rich in narrative and humour and engaged with the complex cultural, political, and racial circumstances that defined antebellum society.
Here Mount portrayed a boisterous group of patrons in a country tavern. The seated men encourage the drunken dance of the central figure, whose tattered clothes and inebriated state suggest a less fortunate position. Standing in the back corner is an African American figure, who, as a free black man in 1830s New York, was able to frequent the public tavern, but, as Mount makes clear visually, did not participate fully or equally in this community.
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