Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2021-06-10 00:49Z by Steven

Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

University Press of Mississippi
282 pages
30 b&w illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496834348
Paperback ISBN: 9781496834355

Naurice Frank Woods Jr., Associate Professor of African American Studies
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Foreword by George Dimock, Associate Professor Emeritus of Art
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

The extraordinary struggle, achievement, loss, and reclamation of three brilliant African American artists of the 1800s

Painters Robert Duncanson (ca. 1821–1872) and Edward Bannister (1828–1901) and sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1844–1907) each became accomplished African American artists. But as emerging art makers of color during the antebellum period, they experienced numerous incidents of racism that severely hampered their pursuits of a profession that many in the mainstream considered the highest form of social cultivation. Despite barriers imposed upon them due to their racial inheritance, these artists shared a common cause in demanding acceptance alongside their white contemporaries as capable painters and sculptors on local, regional, and international levels.

Author Naurice Frank Woods Jr. provides an in-depth examination of the strategies deployed by Duncanson, Bannister, and Lewis that enabled them not only to overcome prevailing race and gender inequality, but also to achieve a measure of success that eventually placed them in the top rank of nineteenth-century American art.

Unfortunately, the racism that hampered these three artists throughout their careers ultimately denied them their rightful place as significant contributors to the development of American art. Dominant art historians and art critics excluded them in their accounts of the period. In this volume, Woods restores their artistic legacies and redeems their memories, introducing these significant artists to rightful, new audiences.

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The Hudson River School via Cincinnati

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2011-06-19 21:14Z by Steven

The Hudson River School via Cincinnati

Chronogram: Arts, Culture, Spirit
Kingston, New York


“History can be blind,” observes Joseph D. Ketner II, curator of “Robert S. Duncanson: ‘the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s sons,’” an exhibition at the Thomas Cole National Historical Site in Catskill. Duncanson (1821-1872) was an African-American landscape painter, once highly regarded, now almost entirely forgotten.
Born a freedman in Seneca County, New York, Robert Duncanson moved as a youth to Michigan. At the age of 16 he apprenticed to a house painter, then briefly began his own painting and glazing business. In 1840, Duncanson resolved to become an artist, relocating to Cincinnati, the largest city in “the West.” The youth taught himself to paint by copying Thomas Cole paintings and sketching from life. He became an itinerant portraitist, then moved on to nature scenes.
By the 1850s in Cincinnati, the two most popular art forms, landscape painting and daguerreotype photography, were dominated by African-American artists. James P. Ball was the preeminent daguerreotypist, Duncanson the top painter. Both men were light-skinned “mulattos,” of mixed race, benefiting from the racial caste system of the time. Cincinnati was a northern city, in a “free state” (one without slavery) whose economy and social outlook were Southern. “Cincinnati was one of the most vociferous abolitionist cities, behind Boston, and it was also one of the most adamant pro-slavery cities, simultaneously—a very, very complex dynamic,” explains Ketner.

In 1855, Duncanson and Ball painted a 600-yard antislavery panorama entitled “Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade.” This work consisted of a canvas wrapped around two large dowels, which would be unspooled in an auditorium to the accompaniment of an orchestra, with lighting effects and a narrator describing the changing scenes. The “Mammoth Pictorial Tour” traveled the country, advertised as “Painted by Negroes.” Sadly, it is no longer extant…

…It is tempting to interpret Duncanson’s landscapes politically. Those dreamy temples on the shores of rivers—are they images of a utopian world without slavery and racism? Or does that oversimplify them? Duncanson himself once told his son, on the issue of race, “I have no color on the brain; all I have on the brain is paint.”…

Read the entire article here.

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