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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Uncle Thomas

Image courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Uncle Thomas


Titus Kaphar

American, born 1976

Kaphar’s resonant painting, Uncle Thomas, fuses fact and historical fiction—its title a play on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 19th- century novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Imbued with a strong sense of Christian morality, the idealized yet submissive figure of Stowe’s Uncle Tom has been widely criticized by contemporary historians as “an epithet of servility.”

Reportedly, the painting was inspired by the artist’s eldest uncle, Thomas, who owned ninety-nine acres of land which the family acquired in small increments. The contemporary success it represents suggests a different type of role model for the black man, a personal and familial one of strength and power. Kaphar’s painting
presents us with a portrait of a self-assured and well-heeled black man in 19th-century attire, thus projecting that story of success onto the past.

Tar on paper
48 x 36in. (121.9 x 91.4cm)
Contemporary Art Support Fund
Provenance: The artist
Image courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Titus Kaphar: History in the Making, Apr. 4 - Sept. 7, 2009.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

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