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Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market

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Pepper-Pot:  A Scene in the Philadelphia Market

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John Lewis Krimmel's Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market was one of four paintings shown by the young German artist in the 1811 annual exhibit of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Pepper-Pot brought public attention to Krimmel as the first Philadelphia artist to approach street scenes as the subject of fine art.

Pepper-pot, unique to Philadelphia, was a thick, spicy soup made of vegetables and tripe, ox-feet, or other cheap meats that was sold by street vendors for a few pennies. The picture shows a barefoot black woman ladling cups of soup from a pot for her white customers.

Well into the 19th century, genre art -- that which told stories of everyday life -- was considered vulgar and most often carried a comic or pathetic message. Poor people were predominantly the subjects of genre art, and blacks became an increasingly frequent subject.

The previous year, a woodcut of a pepper-pot vendor had appeared in The Cries of Philadelphia , a book of illustrations and commentary about street vendors, their wares and their customers. Although the vendor was again a black woman, unlike Krimmel's image, the woodcut depicted all the customers as black.

Black female street vendors such as the ones depicted in both pictures were an important part of Philadelphia's black economy. A significant number of free blacks, particularly those without skills as artisans, developed entrepreneurial enterprises that catered to a black clientele as an alternative to menial or domestic labor.

Image Credit: Courtesy, Sumpter Priddy, III Inc.,Alexandria, Virginia.

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Related Entries:
Map of Philadelphia, c. 1796
The Accident in Lombard Street
Back of State House, Philadelphia

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