The Souls of Black Art - the Spirit Creative

An Overview of the History of African American Art
and Black Artists - Series 1, Part 3.

Written by Kamau Austin and Edited by Carol Austin

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The History of Black art and African American Art Part 3, Robert S. Duncanson continued

Robert Scott Duncanson, painted from the 1840's until shortly before his demise in 1872. He was born in 1821 in Fayette New York. He started out as a house painter. Duncanson, grew up in Monroe on Lake Erie "as part of an extended family of painters and interior decorators". He tried to establish a partnership in the family trade. Nevertheless, he was unsuccessful in his efforts. Later, in about 1840, after moving to Cincinnati, then the business and cultural center of the western United States, Duncanson was working to seek better opportunities.

Humble Beginnings for a
Budding Genius and Forerunner of
Excellence in African American Art.

He earned his way as a house painter for a while as he trained himself in the fine arts by copying paintings. His first original paintings included still lifes and portraits of White Cincinnati abolitionists. Duncanson, was referred to at the time, as an example of black ability. He was even referred to as "the best landscape painter in the west" by a Cincinnati newspaper.

In 1848, Rev. Charles Avery, also a mining company owner and abolitionist, commissioned Duncanson to paint the first profitable coppermine in North America. This resulting landscape was Cliff Mine, Lake Superior and was to mark a turning point in his career. About 2 years later Cincinnati's wealthiest resident, Nicholas Longsworth, commissioned Duncanson to paint eight landscape murals for his mansion. Longsworth would be a very important patron and supporter for Duncanson to service. Duncanson, created and completed the work with great aplomb. Thereafter, his work really began to show the fruit of his hard labor over the years.

Great Developments for a Black Artist and for Black Art and African American Art

By 1850 Duncanson moved into a studio next to William Sonntag, a proponent of the Hudson River School and adapted that style. The perspective of the Hudson River School, was that the wilderness represented a symbol of America's promise. Therefore artists of this school painted American landscapes in bold contrasts of light and dark meticulous detail.

Duncanson takes His
Landscape Painting International

In 1853 Duncanson, with the financial assistance of Nicholas Longsworth, joined William Sonntag in studying landscape paintings and natural scenery in England, Italy, and France. An outgrowth of the trip was Duncanson's increased confidence in his artistic talent. In a letter to a friend he stated "Of all the landscapes I saw in Europe, and I saw thousands, I do not feel discouraged."

Two Great African American Artist
combine forces to Create and Inspire

Once back in Cincinnati, Duncanson made a living by retouching and coloring portraits by James Presley Ball, a black daguerreotyper that owned the best known art studio in the Ohio Valley. Duncanson continued to refine his landscape painting style. He exhibited paintings of ancient ruins based on his international travels in James P. Ball's Gallery. The collaboration between the two prominent black artists, Duncanson and Ball, drew aspiring black artists and artisans to Cincinnati.

Robert Scott Duncanson, is a forerunner of Outstanding African American Artists that embody the Excellence of Black Art and African American Art.

Shortly after the start of the Civil War in 1861, Duncanson finished his most ambitious work up until that time. The name of the painting was titled Land of the Lotus Eaters. Later in 1863 Duncanson moved to Canada and helped to establish Canadian landscape painting. Two years later he traveled to Great Britain to exhibit his paintings. In 1866 he returned to the United States and began to create a series of Scottish influenced landscapes.

Duncanson became ...

to read part 4 on the history of Black Art and African American art click here

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