Robert S. Duncanson
Nothing was going to stop Robert S. Duncanson (1821-1872) from pursuing his goal of becoming an artist – not a lack of access to a professional education and certainly not the many barriers he faced as a man of color in 19th Century America.
Duncanson was born in Seneca County, New York in 1821 to an African-American mother and a Scottish Canadian father. Duncanson spent part of his childhood in Canada, later moving to Cincinnati.
In this bustling arts center, he found support from patrons such as abolitionist Nicholas Longworth, who turned what was originally a private home – he lived there for 30 years – into the Taft Museum of Art. Duncanson’s largest-ever commission was a set of murals for Longworth in the museum’s foyer.
Duncanson was once hailed as “the greatest landscape painter of the West,” and his works are part of the Hudson River School aesthetic, though in this case the river valley is the Ohio. His paintings are expertly rendered to convey a simultaneous sense of grandeur and intimacy.
Nothing was going to stop Duncanson from being the first African-American artist to travel to Europe for study and to gain an international following. Queen Victoria, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the King of Sweden were active collectors of his work. Canada, where Duncanson spent many productive years, also claims and acclaims him as an important early artist.
Richard J. Powell of Duke University describes Duncanson’s success as a “… victory over society’s presumptions of what an African-American artist should create.”
The Taft Museum of Art annually recognizes contemporary creations of African- Americans through the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence Program.
Nationally renowned local artist Michael McEwan teaches painting and drawing classes at his Clintonville area studio.