Inaugural painting choice has Monroe connections – News – Monroe News – Monroe, Michigan

Robert Sheldon Duncanson was known as both a prominent African American artist and one of the most famous American landscape artists of the mid-19th century.

An artist whose painting featured prominently at President Joe Biden’s inaugural dinner this week had family ties with Monroe and is buried here.

The artist is Robert Sheldon Duncanson, who was known as both a prominent African American artist and one of the most famous American landscape artists of the mid-19th century. There is an exhibit about the Duncanson family in the Monroe County Museum; He is buried in Woodland Cemetery.

His 1859 painting, Landscape with a Rainbow, caught national attention this week.

As Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Explained, opening dinner traditions include selecting a particular piece of art to set the tone amid a flurry of ceremonial gifts. With so many housewarming logisticians forced to adapt to COVID-19 and security concerns due to the January 6th uprising at the Capitol, some details of the day were worked out at the last minute. This included the selection of a featured work of art.

Blunt stated that he was Dr. Jill Biden, the arriving first lady, asked to help select the painting. This was the one she recommended. “Rainbow Landscape” is currently in the collection of the Smithsonian America Art Museum. and was loaned for the occasion.

“The rainbow is always a good sign,” said Blunt at the program.

The Smithsonian lists Duncanson as “perhaps the most accomplished African American painter in the United States from 1850 to 1860”.

Duncanson spent most of his career in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was an area abolitionists were active in and this is the hometown that was mentioned when the painting was presented. The Smithsonian’s follow-up report of the painting, published on, states that the landscape offers a view of the Covington, Ky./Cincinnati, Ohio area.

But, as Gerry Wykes, exhibition coordinator for the Monroe County Museum explained, Duncanson also has strong family ties with Monroe and was buried here after his death in 1872.

“We can take it very hard,” said Wykes of Monroe.

As a result, the story of the painting immediately caught the attention of local museum staff that week in Washington DC.

Just last fall, Dora Kelley was named the museum’s 2020 Spirit of Service Connection Award winner for her interest and support for Duncanson’s life. His grave had remained unmarked, and Kelley collected the money to buy and install a tombstone in its place.

Also to celebrate Kelley’s research, Valerie Mercer, a member of the Detroit Institute of Arts, hosted a program at the Monroe County Museum in 2019. The DIA has at least three of its pictures.

Wykes said the local museum does not have a famous Duncanson painting in its collection, although other family memorabilia and items are on display. There were others in the family who did house painting, decorative arts, and other works of art, none as talented as him.

Duncanson was born in Seneca County, New York; Before his family came to Monroe in 1928. As a young adult, he started a painting company in Monroe, the museum employees said in a Facebook post this week. But he quickly decided to move to Cincinnati and pursue a career in portrait panting. Duncanson often returned to visit his family, although he lived in Ohio for a time and also in Canada.

In the meantime he was able to study art in Europe with the help of sponsors.

“He was respected as an artist in his own right,” said Wykes.

The fact that Duncanson was a black American caught attention at the time. It could also be why people are rediscovering his work in recent years, the local historian said, adding there is an interest in discovering and celebrating Americans whose success and accomplishments may have been overlooked or forgotten.

The Smithsonian Report says this in honor of the lunch choices:

“Duncanson painted this landscape on the eve of the Civil War, a reminder of the power of landscape painting to convey America’s cultural aspirations. Duncanson presents this scene as a vision of future peace and prosperity regardless of race – a claim we should all embrace. “

USA Today’s Bart Jansen contributed to this report.

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