This fantastic RARE 1897 print is entitled "An Old Time Cake Walk", and is by the Victorian artist William Robertson Leigh. It is a grand old scene, with Negro Black American folks dancing up a storm. Their faces are joyful, and their period dress wonderful. Men laugh, smoke corncob pipes, and play the banjo and accordion, while a couple center stage dance amidst their friends. It's a lively barn scene, with animals in the background, and a hay loft pulley in view. It is signed W. R. Leigh center bottom of the print.
A little information from the net on the origin of the "Cake Walk (Cakewalk): The cakewalk was originally a 19th-century dance, invented by African-Americans in the antebellum South. It was intended to satirize the stiff ballroom promenades of white plantation owners, who favored the rigidly formal dances of European high-society. Cakewalking slaves lampooned these stuffy moves by over-accentuating their high kicks, bows, and imaginary hat doffings, mixing the cartoonish gestures together with traditional African steps. Likely unaware of the dance's derisive roots, the whites often invited their slaves to participate in Sunday contests, to determine which dancers were most elegant and inventive. The winners would receive cake slices, a prize which gave birth to the dance's familiar name.
After Emancipation, the contest tradition continued in black communities; the Oxford English Dictionary dates the widespread adoption of "cakewalk" to the late 1870s. It was around this time that the cakewalk came to mean "easy"—not because the dance was particularly simple to do but rather because of its languid pace and association with weekend leisure.
The cakewalk's fame eventually spread northward, and it became a nationwide fad during the 1890s. Legendary performers Charles Johnson and Dora Dean were the dance's great popularizers, and cakewalk contests were a staple of Manhattan nightlife around the turn of century, for whites as well as blacks. Early ragtime songs, with their trademark syncopated beats and brassy sounds, were often known as cakewalk music.
Cakewalk contests also gave rise to two other well-worn clichés—"That takes the cake!" and "piece of cake." The latter phrase, which also means easy, is believed to have first been used in print by humorist Ogden Nash in The Primrose Path.
Southern natives, especially those who grew up attending church socials and PTA fund-raisers, often have a very different notion of cakewalk's definition. To them, a cakewalk is a contest like musical chairs, in which participants walk around circle marked off with numbers. When the music stops, the contestants freeze and an emcee calls out a number; whoever's physically closest to that numbered slot on the loop wins a sugary treat.
A little bit about the artist:
William Robinson Leigh (September 23, 1866 – March 11, 1955) was an American artist, who specialized in Western scenes.
He was born at Maidstone Manor Farm, Berkeley County, West Virginia. He entered the Maryland Institute at age 14, then attended the Royal Academy in Munich. He returned to the United States after twelve years abroad and worked painting cycloramas and as a magazine illustrator. He married twice, and fathered William Colston Leigh, Sr. (1901–1992). In 1906, Leigh traveled to the American West and maintained a studio in New York City. In 1926 he travelled to Africa at the invitation of Carl Akeley for the American Museum of Natural History, and from this experience wrote and illustrated Frontiers of Enchantment: An Artist's Adventures in Africa. In 1933, he wrote and illustrated The Western Pony. His adventures were chronicled in a number of popular magazines including Life, the Saturday Evening Post, and Colliers. He is known for painting the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Forest, but his primary interest were the Hopi and Navajo Indians.
This wonderful print is just an intriguing piece of American history indeed! The print is in VG+++ to Near Fine condition with vivid color hues. Please note that the darkness and color tones are evenly spread throughout the print, it's because of the pebbly stock paper it is printed on that there is some sheen or reflection in the photos. It does not appear grainy in person at all.
The print is housed in a heavy quarter-sawn oak frame with outstanding minial ray grain, and at each corner is a burnished brass metal embellishment that has a flying bird. The bird mimics the free feel of the dance and their body movements in flight. The print has only a small amount of wear confined to the lower off white margin area only. This one also has the title showing, which was often cut off when framed. The frame is also in VG+++ condition. Overall size with the frame is aprox 14.25 x 20.25 inches, a nice large size which is just captivating and a focal point of any collection. We do welcome all layaways, so have a peek in our shop for more great framed prints, where we can often combine items to save postage.
Item ID: 2018
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