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Walters Art Museum acquires major work by African American artist Richard Seldon Duncanson
Robert Seldon Duncanson, River Scene (1868), oil on canvas, Museum purchase with funds provided by the Eddie and Sylvia Brown Challenge Grant and matching funds, 2012, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (37.2933)
BALTIMORE, MD.- In 2002, philanthropists Eddie and C. Sylvia Brown created The Brown Challenge Grant, donating $500,000 to the Walters Art Museum, to be matched by the museum, creating a $1 million fund for the purchase of art by 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century African American artists. The Walters has purchased a number of works by African American artists through this fund, including works by Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901), Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907) and Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). The Walters has purchased the final major work associated with this grant, River Scene (1868), a serene landscape by Richard Seldon Duncanson (1821-1872), which is now on view in the Walters’ 19th-Century Galleries.

“The Brown Challenge Grant has allowed the Walters to continue its commitment to increase diversity within its permanent collection,” said Walters Executive Director Gary Vikan. “Works by these renowned, historical African American artists strengthens the Walters’ collection and furthers the institution’s commitment to inclusivity.”

“We want the entire community to feel connected to the art in our permanent collection as well as to enjoy our programming and special exhibitions,” said Walters Deputy Director for Audience Engagement Jacqueline Copeland. “During our annual free African American Family Festival on February 23, visitors will have the opportunity to see the new Duncanson painting as well as Edmonia Lewis’ Bust of Dr. Diocletian Lewis (1868) and Bannister’s Boston Street Scene (Boston Common) (1898-9).”

Duncanson, the most recently added artist acquired through this grant, was an individual who faced prejudices as a “free colored person,” but was hailed in 1861 as “the best landscape painter of the West.” His art depicted the Ohio River Valley and the vast North American landscape. River Scene (1868) is an idealized landscape that reveals a luminosity characteristic of his work. He included several small finely dressed black figures in the painting that are engaged in leisure activities, demonstrating that although Duncanson worked in the American landscape tradition, he added a nuanced African American perspective. This painting will be on view through Black History Month in February and then brought to our Conservation labs for study.

A recent museum purchase of Tanner’s Lion Drinking (ca. 1897) joins the Portrait Bust of Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1894), acquired by the fund in 2004. Considered one of the most distinguished American artists of the 19th century, Tanner studied with Thomas Eakins, and moving abroad, achieved international fame as a painter. Lion Drinking (ca. 1897) was probably painted in Palestine when the artist visited in 1897. Early in his career Tanner displayed an interest in painting animals and often used an old lion named Pomp, who resided at the Philadelphia Zoo, as a model. The painting will undergo treatment by conservators and be hung later this year.

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