Amon Carter print details

Attention, Company!

William M. Harnett (1848-1892)

Object Details

  • Date


  • Object Type


  • Medium

    Oil on canvas

  • Dimensions

    36 x 28 in.

  • Inscriptions


    signed and dated, u.l.: WMH [monogram] HARNETT \ 1878

  • Credit Line

    Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

  • Accession Number


  • Copyright

    Public domain

Object Description

In Harnett’s picture, a young boy wears an improvised soldier’s costume. Wearing a paper tricorn hat and holding a wooden rod like a rifle, he stares directly at us. The painting does not identify the boy, but he is probably Isaac White, an 8-year-old formerly enslaved child who appeared in a portrait series published by the National Freedman’s Relief Association in 1864. Harnett may have copied Isaac’s likeness from one of these photographs, adding the costumed accessories and the wall marked with graffiti.

Scholars have debated the meaning of this work. Some have speculated that the picture cruelly mocks efforts at the time to venerate Black Civil War veterans. But others have pointed to the ways that Harnett’s rendering breaks from crude stereotypes, particularly the child’s arresting gaze and his carefully individualized features, suggesting that Attention, Company! says something profound about the precarious status of Black Americans during Reconstruction.

—Text taken from the Carter Handbook (2023)

Additional details

Location: On view
See more by William M. Harnett


  • This 19th-century artist painted a very realistic portrait of a Black boy. In fact, this popular painting style of the period is known as tromp l’oeil, French for “fools the eye,” and the artist’s effort to accomplish this was masterfully achieved. The young boy with chocolate-colored skin, large, dark-brown eyes, and plump lips is shown from about the mid-thigh up as he stands in front of a dark-green, wooden wall covered with torn paper advertisements and carved graffiti. He looks straight ahead at the viewer in an attentive pose with his arms at his sides, imitating that of a soldier. In his right hand, he holds a wooden stick, taller than him, upright like a rifle. A tricorn hat made of newspaper sits on his head at a slight angle so that his black, curly hair can be seen. He wears a long-sleeved, tan coat, fastened at the neck by a thin strip of fabric with silver buttons on each side. The jacket is wrinkled and looks worn, indicated by a patch on his right elbow and the tattered, brown piping along its edges. Under his coat is a gray vest with mismatched buttons and more worn brown piping. The top and bottom buttons of the vest are shiny, smooth brass and the middle button is white, with stitches in the middle holding it in place. Under the boy’s vest is a cream-colored, collarless shirt. The boy's pants match his vest.

Educator Resources
  • How has the purpose, media, and style of portraits changed and/or stayed the same throughout time?

    How has childhood, and the place of childhood in the national imagination, changed throughout time?

    How might the background, clothes, facial expression, and body language depicted in a portrait reveal something about the sitter?

    How might the style, subject, and depiction of the sitter reveal something about the artist who created the portrait?

  • Grades 4–8

    Show students the image Attention, Company! and, as a group, discuss the artwork. Who is the boy in the image? What is he doing? Give students a cinquain poem template and have them write a poem using adjectives that describe this boy and verbs that describe things he might do.

    All Levels

    Activity 1
    Provide students with a small printout of the work of art. Students will glue the image to a larger piece of paper and extend the scene using pencils and colored pencils.

    Activity 2
    Using any media that you may be exploring with your students, have students create a portrait of themselves with a game they enjoy. For older students, have them create a portrait of themselves as younger children with a game from their youth. Example: As a child I often had water-balloon fights with my siblings, so my portrait might be me holding a water balloon in front of our brick house near the water hose.

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This information is published from the Carter's collection database. Updates and additions based on research and imaging activities are ongoing. The images, titles, and inscriptions are products of their time and are presented here as documentation, not as a reflection of the Carter’s values. If you have corrections or additional information about this object please email us to help us improve our records.

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