A young girl stands on a promontory, her hair streaming in the wind. The path before her ends, so she must either retrace her steps or try to find a different way forward. Johnson called this painting The Girl I Left Behind Me, invoking an Irish ballad that was popular with both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. In doing so, the artist opens the possibility that this young girl is doing more than waiting for the return of her husband. Her wedding ring, glinting in the light, speaks of commitment to her union, but is Johnson referring to her personal life or to the nation? The split-rail fence below her divides the landscape, and the fog surrounding her suggests a world fraught with ambivalence. She appears to wait for a sign of what will come next.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.