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Emancipation Group

Emancipation Group

Thomas Ball

Thomas Ball composed this statue commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The sculpture represents Lincoln granting freedom to a figure representing enslaved people. Lincoln magically breaks the chains of bondage with his raised hand and bids a kneeling slave to rise from his lowly position. The scroll in the president’s other hand represents the Emancipation Proclamation, which rests on a column symbolizing the United States. In contrast to the heroic portrayal of Lincoln, who stands fully clothed, the nude Black man crouches in an inferior position and is not an individual, but a racial type. The statue characterizes Black freedom as an act of white power, given to a figure who remains on the ground, unable to free himself. The statue affirms an unequal relationship between Black and white Americans even as it purportedly celebrates emancipation. Although the kneeling figure seen here was an idealized racial type, Ball later revised the composition and modeled the man’s face after a photograph of Archer Alexander, a formerly enslaved man. Larger versions of the revised statue were cast in bronze and erected as monuments to freedom in Washington, D.C. and Boston. The latter was removed in 2020.
Thomas Ball
(American, 1819 - 1911)
Emancipation Group
White Italian marble
45 1/2 x 27 9/16 x 21 1/4 in. Overall
Gift of Dr. Warren E. Gilson
Accession No.
United States


After 1873 [1870s], allegedly donated to the City of San Francisco “by one of the Nob Hill-Comstock Lode millionaires” and located in the Courthouse [1]; after April, 1906-1974, private collection (San Francisco, CA); 1974, acquired by antique dealer (Salt Lake, UT); 1974, sold to Anthony B. Christensen (Bountiful, UT) [2]; by November 1975, Dr. Warren E. Gilson (Middleton, WI) [3]; 24 November 1975, deposited on long-term loan to Elvehjem Art Center; 1976, gifted to Elvehjem Art Center [now called Chazen Museum of Art]. [1] in letter from Anthony B. Christensen to Dr. Eric McCready, Director of the Elvehjem Art Center: "To my knowledge this piece was donated to the City of San Francisco by one of the Nob Hill-Comstock Lode millionaires in the 1870s. It was placed in the San Francisco City Courthouse and removed from the courthouse after the "Great Earthquake" and placed in a private estate where it remained until last year [1974]." This information needs to be researched and confirmed. [2] Anthony B. Christensen is the owner of Anthony’s Antiques and Fine Art, Salt Lake City, UT (founded ca. 1990, [3] Dr. Warren E. Gilson (1917-2000), UW alumnus and founder of Gilson, Inc., a Wisconsin firm specializing in medical instruments; Gilson was a collector of decorative arts and donor of over 200 objects to the Milwaukee Art Museum between 1978 and 1998:; Gilson donated 16 objects (paintings, sculpture, antiquities, Asian ceramics, and decorative arts) to the Elvehjem Museum of Art between 1975 and 1994.

  • Craven, Wayne. "Thomas Ball and the Emancipation Group." Bulletin 1976-77. Elvehjem Art Center (1977): 43-51.
  • Fryd, Vivien Green. "Hiram Power's Bust of George Washington: The President as an Icon." Phoebus: A Journal of Art History, 5 (1987): 14-27. p.27, fig. 13

  • re:mancipation: Chazen Museum of Art, 2/6/2023–6/25/2023

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