The Stone Bridge

Robert Seldon Duncanson, American, 1821 - 1872

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1851

Oil on canvas

Overall: 10 × 16 in. (25.4 × 40.6 cm)

Frame: 18 × 24 in. (45.7 × 61 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through the Florence and Lansing Porter Moore 1937 Fund

2007.53

Geography

Place Made: United States, North America

Period

19th century

Object Name

Painting

Research Area

Painting

Not on view

Inscriptions

Signed and dated, lower right: R.S. Duncanson 1851; frame label, on reverse: H. ARDING, / Picture Frame Maker, ESTABLISHED / LONDON 188 [loss in paper] / BRONZE MEDAL / AWARDED / SAN FRANCISCO. / 1894

Label

Robert Seldon Duncanson is widely considered to be the first African American artist to gain a measure of international recognition. He was born in upstate New York and descended from freed slaves in Virginia. In 1841 Duncanson relocated to Cincinnati, where he benefited from the patronage of wealthy art collector Nicholas Longworth, who assisted with the artist’s 1853 trip abroad. By 1860, Duncanson was considered the leading landscape painter in the Ohio River Valley. After spending the Civil War years in Canada, he made a yearlong sojourn to Great Britain, where he exhibited his work to favorable attention.

Painted before his first trip to Europe, The Stone Bridge has a much more naturalistic quality than many of Duncanson’s mature compositions, which are often fantastic landscapes drawn from his imagination. This work’s quiet palette and unspectacular subject suggest a familiarity with 17th-century Netherlandish landscapes, which he likely encountered in Longworth’s extensive collection of European and American art.

From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art

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This peaceful scene situates us as viewers in the middle of a placid river, with a stone bridge and modest mountain ahead. Only the bridge indicates a human presence, yet its worn stones and cloak of greenery harmonize with the landscape’s restricted palette, suggesting a peaceful interdependence between humankind and nature. Considered to be the first African American artist to gain a measure of international recognition, Robert Seldon Duncanson painted this scene early in his career, when he was recognized as a leading landscape painter in the Ohio River Valley.

From the 2022 exhibition This Land: American Engagement with the Natural World, curated by Jami C. Powell, Curator of Indigenous Art; Barbara J. MacAdam, former Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art; Thomas H. Price, former Curatorial Assistant; Morgan E. Freeman, former DAMLI Native American Art Fellow; and Michael Hartman, Jonathan Little Cohen Associate Curator of American Art

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Robert Duncanson lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city located on the Ohio River that divided Northern freedom from Southern slavery. He painted The Stone Bridge after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which required self-emancipated or "runaway" enslaved people to be returned if apprehended in a free state (like Ohio or New Hampshire). Duncanson was a free Black painter heavily involved in Cincinnati’s anti-slavery movement. The legal context for his painting—completed a year after Leutze’s painting—suggests the artist’s political activism. However, we do not know if Duncanson intended this painting to be a political statement. The artist may have simply sought pleasure in painting the landscape.

From the 2022 exhibition Historical Imaginary, curated by Michael Hartman, Jonathan Little Cohen Associate Curator of American Art


Course History

AAAS 88.19, Contemporary African-American Artists, Michael Chaney, Summer 2021

ANTH 7.05, Animals and Humans, Laura Ogden, Winter 2022

GEOG 31.01, Postcolonial Geographies, Erin Collins, Winter 2022

ANTH 50.05, Environmental Archaeology, Madeleine McLeester, Winter 2022

ANTH 50.05, Environmental Archaeology, Madeleine McLeester, Winter 2022

ARTH 5.01, Introduction to Contemporary Art, Mary Coffey and Chad Elias, Winter 2022

ANTH 3.01, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Chelsey Kivland, Summer 2022

ANTH 3.01, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Chelsey Kivland, Summer 2022

SPAN 65.15, Wonderstruck: Archives and the Production of Knowledge in an Unequal World, Silvia Spitta and Barbara Goebel, Summer 2022

Film Studies 42.23, Travelers and Tourists, Heidi Denzel, Spring 2023

History 63.02, Reading Artifacts: The Material Culture of Science, Whitney Barlow Robles, Spring 2023

Exhibition History

American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26, 2019-September 12, 2021.

Historical Imaginary, Luise and Morton Kaish Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, December 17, 2022-November 12, 2023.

Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, March 2, 2009-November 2, 2009.

Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, May 22, 2008.

Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, October 22, 2012 to present.

This Land: American Engagement with the Natural World, Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 5–July 22, 2022

Provenance

Christie's, New York, Sale May 24, 1995, no. 13, illus.; sold to a private collection; Christie's, New York, Sale November 30, 2006, no. 90, illus.; sold to Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, New York; sold to present collection, 2007.

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