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Robert S. Duncanson Oil Painting of American Landscape, Circa 1850 - 1852

Item Details

Robert S. Duncanson (American, 1821 – 1872)
Untitled American Landscape, circa 1850 – 1852
Oil on canvas
Presented in original architectural Rococo style frame
Name plate to lower center of frame

Acquired by private collection, 1966
Sold by the Carl Solway Gallery to Middendorf Gallery, 1989
Sold by the Middendorf Gallery to private collection, 1989
Sold by Carl Solway Gallery to private collection, 2006

Everything But the House is grateful to Michael Francis Meyer, who studied the painting with Robert Duncanson scholar Joseph Ketner, and provided his opinion about the authenticity of the work. If the buyer desires, Michael Meyer is willing to provide a letter of opinion concerning the painting.

A painting of an American landscape by the renowned African-American artist Robert S. Duncanson, created circa 1850 – 1852. Executed in the Hudson River School style, this painting is presented in the original Rococo style frame, with arched inner edges, a frame style that adorned many of Duncanson’s paintings from the 1850s. These architectural frames were a preference of Duncanson’s and are also a painted trompe-l’œil feature in his famous Belmont home murals, now the Taft Museum of Art.

This Romantic landscape, perhaps of a Southern landscape, features a river meandering in the middle of a forest, with distant mountains visible in the Luminist sky. In the left foreground, three figures stand by their encampment on a spit of land interjecting into the river. The painting exhibits Duncanson’s style of the early 1850s with dark red and blue tones, however the artist may have reworked the painting a few years later, as he often did with the intent to improve his technique and appeal to American and European trends.

Considered the most accomplished African-American painter of the mid 19th century, Robert S. Duncanson was regarded by the American press as the “best landscape painter in the West”, and was the first African-American artist to gain international acclaim. Born in Seneca County, New York, he and his mother moved to Mt. Healthy, Ohio, near Cincinnati. By 1942, he was exhibiting in Cincinnati and receiving commissions. Although his work can be divided into five categories including portraits, regional landscapes, landscapes inspired by literature, still lifes, and murals, his most notable accomplishment are his Belmont murals that he began in the 1850s. For these murals, he was commissioned to paint an extensive series for the abolitionist and political leader Nicholas Longworth intended for the main entrance of his home, with each panel measures more than six by nine feet, making these the largest paintings among his work. Financed by an abolitionist organization from Ohio, Duncanson was able to travel to Europe for the first time in 1853, where he studied the landscapes of Claude Lorrain and J. M. W. Turner. After returning to Cincinnati, he owned a photography studio and was also closely associated with the prominent Cincinnati African-American photographer J.P. Ball. Throughout the 1860s, Duncanson traveled extensively throughout the United States and gained more popularity among his contemporaries. During the Civil War, he traveled to Scotland and painted landscapes that were received very favorably when exhibited them in the United States. However, particularly noteworthy are his works featuring landscapes along the Mason-Dixon line during the Civil War era. Duncanson was in constant communication with abolitionists and many of his idyllic landscapes are viewed as metaphors for African-Americans passage to freedom.

Throughout his lifetime, Duncanson progressed from a housepainter to an acclaimed artist whose work rivaled those of Hudson River Valley painters such as Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, and John Frederick Kensett. In addition to the Taft Museum of Art, his work has been exhibited and collected by multiple reputable institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the California African American Museum, among many others.


- painting has been restored most recently in 2007 and previously relined with wax; craquelure throughout; in painting applied throughout sky, small areas of in painting scattered throughout; thinning throughout paint from previous restorations; small chips, scratches, and finish loss scattered throughout frame.


39.25" W x 30.75" H x 3.0" D

- measurement of frame; canvas size measures 30.5" H x 22" H.

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