New at Crystal Bridges: Robert Scott Duncanson | Rock Candy

New at Crystal Bridges: Robert Scott Duncanson



Flatboat Men
  • "Flatboat Men"

Robert Scott Duncanson's name may not be familiar in contemporary art circles, but it will be better known in Arkansas now that Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has included one of the 19th century landscape artist's works in its collection.
CBMA paired its announcement of the Duncanson with its acquistion of the Kara Walker tapestry (see earlier blog item). Like Walker, Duncanson, born in 1821 in New York, was an African-American (and half Scots — his father was a white Canadian) and perhaps the first black American to have made a career of art. Unlike Walker, he did not focus on his race in his paintings, and according to an arts writer, he once told his son, “I have no color on the brain; all I have on the brain is paint.”
"Flatboat Men" was painted in 1865. More on the jump.

From today's news release from Crystal Bridges:

Shimmering sky and water envelope the minuscule figures in Robert Scott Duncanson's "Flatboat Men." This pastoral idealization of American industry and wilderness, painted late in Duncanson's career, radiates a serenity characteristic of his work.
"This painting documents the timber industry but also romanticizes the landscape in a manner typical of the Hudson River School," said Manuela Well-Off-Man, assistant curator. "The tiny scale of the figures emphasizes the insignificance of the human within the grand scale of nature."
Largely self-taught as an artist, Duncanson was born in Seneca County, New York sometime between 1817 and 1821 and was raised in the more tolerant atmosphere of his father's native Canada. He returned to his mother's home near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1841 and thereafter traveled widely, working as an itinerant artist and sketching landscapes throughout the United States and Canada. In the early 1850s a prominent Cincinnati landowner and abolitionist, Nicholas Longworth, commissioned a series of eight large murals for his home that marked the largest single project in Duncanson's career and financed the first of several European tours. Late in life, Duncanson suffered from mental illness that may have been linked to lead paint poisoning from his early work as a house painter and years of grinding and mixing paints. He died in 1872.

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