Robert Scott Duncanson

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About this artist

Robert Scott Duncanson was an eminent Midwestern artist during the mid-nineteenth century and also one of the most successful black artists of the century. Accounts of his early life are contradictory, but by 1842 he was known to be actively painting in Cincinnati, where he came to the attention of the notable art patron Nicholas Longworth. He also worked as an itinerant artist, spending long periods in Detroit. Until 1853, when he went abroad with WILLIAM L. SONNTAG and John Robinson Tait (1834-1909), Duncanson painted portraits and landscapes and worked as a daguerreotypist. The trip, sponsored by the Anti-Slavery League, determined the nature of Duncanson’s mature art as he fell under the spell of English landscape painting, particularly that of J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), and classical Italy. From then on he primarily painted landscapes that can be seen as lyrical versions of the Italianate scenes of THOMAS COLE. Duncanson’s romantic landscapes always evoked a gentle, even poetic mystery, with soft brushwork and delicate atmosphere. His occasional forays into literary landscape--Land of the Lotos Eaters, 1861 (His Royal Highness, The King of Sweden), and Uncle Tom and Little Eva, 1853 (Detroit Institute of Arts)-brought him critical attention. From 1863 to 1865 Duncanson resided in Montreal, then he visited England and Scotland. In his late works he combined realistic details with an elegiac tone.

James A. Porter, "Robert S. Duncanson: Midwestern Romantic-Realist," Art in America 39 (October 1951): 98-154, with checklist of located and unlocated paintings § Cincinnati Art Museum, Robert S. Duncanson: A Centennial Exhibition, exh. cat., 1972, with essay by Guy McElroy, entries by Richard J. Boyle § Joseph D. Ketner II, "Robert S. Duncanson (1821-1872): The Late Literary Landscape Paintings," American Art Journal 15 (Winter 1983): 35 - 47 § Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American Art and others, circulated by Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Sharing Traditions: Five Black Artists in Nineteenth-Century America, exh. cat., 1985, with text by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, pp. 51-68 § Allan Pringle, "Robert S. Duncanson in Montreal, 1863-1865," American Art Journal 17 (Autumn 1985): 28-50.