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Recent Acquisitions: Robert Scott Duncanson, The Stone Bridge, 1851

Hood Quarterly, winter 2008

Robert Scott Duncanson (1821–1871) is widely considered to be the first African American artist to gain international recognition. Born in upstate New York of a Scottish Canadian father and African American mother, Duncanson worked primarily in Cincinnati, the cultural and artistic center of the Midwest and a major center of African American culture. He began his self-instruction in the early 1840s by painting portraits and copies of prints but soon focused on landscape painting. As he developed his skills Duncanson benefited from the patronage of wealthy Cincinnati citizen Nicholas Longworth (a staunch abolitionist), who in 1848 commissioned him to paint a series of landscape murals for his home. By 1860 Duncanson was considered the best landscape painter in the Ohio River Valley and had earned enough income to own property and finance trips to Europe, where he exhibited his work to favorable attention.

The Stone Bridge has a much more naturalistic quality than many of Duncanson’s larger, more ambitious compositions. Its quiet palette and unspectacular subject suggest a familiarity with the changing landscapes aesthetics in the United States and abroad, which he likely encountered in Longworth’s extensive collection of European and American art. This is the Hood’s first nineteenth-century painting by an African American artist.

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