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Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821–1872)
The Caves, 1869
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

Betty Dillard
bdillard@bizpress.net

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art has acquired a major painting by 19th-century landscape artist Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821–1872), the first African-American artist to achieve international acclaim.
The work, titled The Caves, painted in 1869, was originally owned by Cincinnati Abolitionist Richard Sutton Rust (1815–1906), and it remained in his family until the Amon Carter purchased it in late 2012.
The painting will be shown to the public for the first time in almost 150 years beginning May 4, when it is displayed in the Amon Carter’s galleries.
“Duncanson is an immensely important figure in American art,” said Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter. “He was a self-taught, black artist from Cincinnati and a leading landscape painter of his time, which was a monumental accomplishment during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Owning a work by this esteemed artist greatly enriches our collection.”
The painting, about 3 feet tall, depicts a view of the wilderness, with unusual geographic features of steep ravines and sandstone cliffs perforated by a canopy of evergreens and a trio of caverns. The Caves is painted in the Hudson River School tradition, which was an inspiration to Duncanson after he viewed works by Thomas Cole and other Hudson River School artists at Cincinnati’s Western Art Union in the late 1840s.
Duncanson’s paintings seldom depict the political and cultural issues of the Civil War, such as slavery and discrimination, according to Margi Conrads, deputy director of art and research. Instead, the artist may have included subtle cues in his landscapes that conveyed his anti-slavery position.
“His depiction of caves poses intriguing questions about whether the painting includes references to the abolitionist movement or the role of African-Americans in everyday society,” Conrads said. “Caves were among the safe havens for runaway slaves through the Civil War. Additionally, both before and after the War, African-Americans guided tourists through caves, and it’s possible Duncanson is referencing this in his painting through the figure at the cavern’s mouth. Regardless, the painting is a beautiful testimony of an artist dedicated to depicting the essential natural world.”
Four watercolors from the museum’s permanent collection by Adrien Mayers (1801?–1833) will be exhibited near the Duncanson painting through Sept. 4. The watercolors portray an early view of Cincinnati, Duncanson’s adopted hometown and the place that nurtured his career.
Also on view are works by 20th- and 21st-century black artists, Romare Bearden (1911–1988) and Sedrick Huckaby (b. 1975). Bearden’s work is featured in the Amon Carter’s summer exhibition Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, on view May 18 through Aug. 11. Fort Worth artist Sedrick Huckaby’s 18-foot-by-14-foot painting Hidden in Plain Site, created in 2011, is on view from May 14 through Oct. 31 in the museum’s atrium.
More information is available at www.cartermuseum.org.


 

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