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The Bad Shoe (The Frozen Foot)

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The Bad Shoe (The Frozen Foot)

Artist: James Edward Freeman (American, 1808-1884; active Italy, after 1841)

Date: 1846
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall: 26 1/2 x 21 1/2in. (67.3 x 54.6cm)
Signed: Lower left (in black paint on horizontal board): 'J.E. Freeman 1846'
Inscribed: Lower left (in red paint below signature): 'The Bohoys'
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John F. McGuigan Jr.
Object number: 2008.27
Label Text
Painted during a yearlong visit to New York, this poignant image of a vital boy amid a harsh winter landscape likely harkens back to Freeman's own youth spent upstate. The words "The Bohoys" appear as red graffiti on the fence just to the left of the offending boot, making this one of the earliest known depictions of a bohoy (also known as a b'hoy or Bowery boy), a uniquely American street urchin.
Originally an immigrant Irish child who lived in New York City's Bowery district, the bohoy was a complex cultural phenomenon. At once vulnerable and naïve, he was also feisty, resourceful, and street-smart. By the early 1850s, the term denoted a man, but he nevertheless remained a paradox. A fractious, frequently violent member of a gang and a nativist, he displayed an incongruous penchant for finery, the theater, and chivalry. It is in this latter incarnation that the bohoy became widely celebrated and mythologized as an American icon in popular prints and literature, most notably in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
While the painting possesses a strong narrative quality, no literary precedent has surfaced. One commentator noted its affinity with Charles Dickens's novels, in which emotionally charged scenes of pathos helped raise awareness of important contemporary social issues.

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