Inauguration Emphasizes Rainbow Painting by African American Artist
Manager Eleanor Jones Harvey shares the story of Robert S. Duncanson
An agrarian scene from SAAM’s long-term collection, Landscape with Rainbow (1859) by Robert S. Duncanson, was on display screen January 20, 2021 at the United States Capitol as part of the inaugural occasions. The painting was chosen by First Woman Dr. Jill Biden and Senator Roy Blunt to show the style of the 59th yearly events–” Our Identified Democracy: Creating a More Perfect Union”– and was meant to hang behind the head table for the traditional welcome luncheon for the brand-new President and Vice President. (The occasion was re-envisioned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Eleanor Jones Harvey, senior manager at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, shares some insights into this art work.
Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821– 1872) was America’s finest understood African American painter in the years surrounding the Civil War. His moms and dads moved the household from Virginia to Fayette, New York City, near Seneca Falls, where Duncanson was born. In 1840 at the age of 19, the artist relocated to Cincinnati, then the biggest and most thriving city on the western frontier. By the 1850s the “Queen City” had actually established a track record for its pro-abolitionist leanings. However even here Duncanson strolled a great line, acknowledging his heritage without flaunting it. Duncanson strove to make a good living and raise a household working as an artist of color throughout the antebellum and Civil War years.
Cincinnati was house to a significant group of popular abolitionists, amongst them Rev. Francis Conover, James Birney, Nicholas Longworth, Rev. Charles Avery, Freeman Cary, and Rev. Richard Rust, all of whom were amongst the artist’s customers. Throughout the 1840s Lyman Beecher and his household– consisting of child Harriet and child Henry Ward Beecher– were pals and fellow citizens. Stowe and her bro left for Boston quickly prior to she composed Uncle Tom’s Cabin; nevertheless, their ties to Cincinnati implied it was extremely most likely Duncanson, and much of his customers, checked out the book in serial kind and saw among the early plays. Regional abolitionist journals took pride in mentioning Duncanson’s achievements as proof of the abilities of African Americans.
The Civil War made it progressively challenging for Duncanson to feel comfy even in Cincinnati, and by 1863 the artist had actually moved with his household to Montreal. There he remained in excellent business; Canada was a terminus of the Underground Railway. Even Frederick Douglass had actually headed north of the border after John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferryboat in 1859, when his arrest appeared impending. Cincinnati had actually long been an essential stop on the Underground Railway. Throughout the river was Covington, Kentucky, and in between them streamed the Ohio River. For numerous who got away, the Ohio River represented the last barrier to flexibility. It was throughout that river that Stowe’s character Eliza got away with her baby child, crossing the ice floes that choked the river at the height of winter season.
The topography of Duncanson’s Landscape with Rainbow stimulates the Covington/Cincinnati area. When it was displayed in 1859, a customer applauded it as “among the most lovely photos painted on this side of the [Allegheny] mountains.” The agrarian vista over which the rainbow arches recommends a scene imbued with hope, offering a pictorial end of the rainbow towards which the couple strolls. Duncanson painted this landscape on the eve of Civil War, a tip of the power of landscape painting to communicate America’s cultural goals. Duncanson provides this scene as a vision of future peace and success no matter race– a goal all of us ought to welcome.