Before the 1800s, Western art depicted blacks in very limited ways. Most commonly, they appeared either as personifications of Africa (see Africa, Part of the Four Corners of the Globe) or, seen here, as eager servants in grand portraits of wealthy individuals or families.
As in Fishing Party, the presence of a black servant or slave on the edge of the painting reflects his or her role as both an essential part of the family and a prop to show that family’s elite status.
Images of blacks before the 19th century were often of fictional people or generalized stereotypes rather than of real individuals. In this case, however, the black man pictured in the far right of the frame has been identified as William Lee, George Washington’s favored slave who often accompanied him on hunting trips and military campaigns. This picture of slavery, meant to reinforce Washington’s image as a gentle father, distracts the viewer from the harsh realities of slavery.