Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Monographs, United States on 2021-06-10 00:49Z by Steven

Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

University Press of Mississippi
2021-07-15
282 pages
30 b&w illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496834348
Paperback ISBN: 9781496834355

Naurice Frank Woods Jr., Associate Professor of African American Studies
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Foreword by George Dimock, Associate Professor Emeritus of Art
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

The extraordinary struggle, achievement, loss, and reclamation of three brilliant African American artists of the 1800s

Painters Robert Duncanson (ca. 1821–1872) and Edward Bannister (1828–1901) and sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1844–1907) each became accomplished African American artists. But as emerging art makers of color during the antebellum period, they experienced numerous incidents of racism that severely hampered their pursuits of a profession that many in the mainstream considered the highest form of social cultivation. Despite barriers imposed upon them due to their racial inheritance, these artists shared a common cause in demanding acceptance alongside their white contemporaries as capable painters and sculptors on local, regional, and international levels.

Author Naurice Frank Woods Jr. provides an in-depth examination of the strategies deployed by Duncanson, Bannister, and Lewis that enabled them not only to overcome prevailing race and gender inequality, but also to achieve a measure of success that eventually placed them in the top rank of nineteenth-century American art.

Unfortunately, the racism that hampered these three artists throughout their careers ultimately denied them their rightful place as significant contributors to the development of American art. Dominant art historians and art critics excluded them in their accounts of the period. In this volume, Woods restores their artistic legacies and redeems their memories, introducing these significant artists to rightful, new audiences.

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Pink and the Fancy Gal: White Slavery, the Abolitionists’ Crusade, and the Painter’s Canvas

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Slavery, United States on 2016-11-29 01:35Z by Steven

Pink and the Fancy Gal: White Slavery, the Abolitionists’ Crusade, and the Painter’s Canvas

Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: a journal of nineteenth-century visual culture
Volume 15, Issue 3, Autumn 2016

Naurice Frank Woods Jr., Assistant Professor of African American Art History; Director of Undergraduate Studies in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Program
University of North Carolina, Greensboro


Fig. 1, George Fuller, The Quadroon, 1880. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of George A. Hearn, 1910.

This article examines two paintings from the antebellum period, The Slave Market (ca. 1859) by an unidentified artist and The Freedom Ring (1860) by Eastman Johnson, which involve the purchase of nearly white slaves, and attempts to delineate the motivation for presenting these images before the public. These paintings functioned much as slave narratives, and abolitionists used them to provide visual evidence of an insidious, often sexually depraved side of “the peculiar institution.”

In late 1849, Massachusetts native George Fuller (1822–84) traveled throughout the Deep South in pursuit of portrait commissions.[1] Like many of his northern contemporaries, Fuller sought a receptive and less competitive climate below the Mason-Dixon Line. The artist’s journey placed him directly in the midst of a region addicted to the institution of slavery, and while it may not have been his intention to observe astutely the lives of human chattel, Fuller was increasingly aware of their plight and recorded his observations in a sketch diary. Fuller’s drawings and subsequent commentary revealed neither his political inclinations about the “great divide” that was gripping the nation nor his moral position on the subject. This was, however, his third trip to the region, and while his sketches remained dignified depictions of black plantation life, his words reflected growing concern over certain “rituals” conducted in the South.

One of these rituals, a slave auction involving a beautiful quadroon, affected him profoundly. Fuller had witnessed slave auctions before, but the sight of men bidding over a nearly white slave like a farm animal caused him to write:

Who is this girl with eyes large and black? The blood of the white and dark races is at enmity in her veins—the former predominated. About ¾ white says one dealer. Three fourths blessed, a fraction accursed. She is under thy feet, white man. . . . Is she not your sister? . . . She impresses me with sadness! The pensive expression of her finely formed mouth and her drooping eyes seemed to ask for sympathy. . . . Now she looks up, now her eyes fall before the gaze of those who are but calculating her charms or serviceable qualities. . . . Oh, is beauty so cheap?…

Read the entire article here.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Negotiation of Race and Art: Challenging “The Unknown Tanner”

Posted in Articles, Biography, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2011-06-30 21:56Z by Steven

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Negotiation of Race and Art: Challenging “The Unknown Tanner”

Journal of Black Studies
Published online before print 2011-03-17
DOI: 10.1177/0021934710395588

Naurice Frank Woods, Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

This essay is a response to an article recently published by Will South titled “A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner” in the journal Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. Tanner was the foremost African American artist of the late 19th century. He has emerged as an exemplar of Black achievement in the arts and is now included in the canon of American art of that period. While Tanner labored to remove the equation of race as the defining factor for his artistic output, he never lost sight of his racial identity. South’s article suggests otherwise and he reconstructs Tanner as a “tragic mulatto” who, on several occasions, passed as White to advance his career and social standing. South’s conclusion seriously jeopardizes Tanner’s hard-fought reputation and greatly diminishes his celebrated cultural significance. I weigh South’s evidence against documented sources and conclude that Tanner unabashedly affirmed his “Blackness” throughout his life and art.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Affirming Blackness: A Rebuttal to Will South’s “A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner”

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2011-06-30 20:38Z by Steven

Affirming Blackness: A Rebuttal to Will South’s “A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner”

Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: a journal of ninetheenth-century visual culture
Volume 9, Issue 2 (Autumn 2010)

Naurice Frank Woods, Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

George Dimock, Associate Professor of Art History
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Will South’s recent article proposing a heretofore “unknown” Henry Ossawa Tanner who was conflicted about his African American identity and who, while in France, sought to pass as white demonstrates an impressive mastery of archival sources and a flair for persuasive re-interpretation. It is all the more problematic therefore that he misinterprets the available evidence and thereby diminishes the cultural significance of Tanner’s work. Most ingeniously, South builds an elaborate yet spurious argument by restoring a question mark to Tanner’s declaration “Now am I a Negro?” in a famous epistolary exchange with art critic Eunice Tietjens in 1914. In so doing he refashions the foremost African American artist of the nineteenth century as a tragic mulatto—a man who saw himself “as mostly white,” who worked while in France to “systematically…remove race from the equation of his life,” and was willing “to conceal the African American component of his extraction.” South concludes with a critical appraisal that undermines the integrity of Tanner’s art by claiming that “his achievements, ultimately, were grounded in a life of complex compromise lived in between his blackness and his whiteness.”

With or without the missing punctuation, Tanner’s response to Tietjens resounds as his most important statement on race. It reflects his utter frustration with America’s practice of applying a rule of hypodescent (the “one-drop rule“) that defined him as an innately inferior being and constricted his opportunities as artist and citizen. What Tanner was rejecting in his response to Tietjens was not his race but the American art establishment’s continual labeling of him as “Negro” whenever his talent was evaluated. By way of contrast, the Paris art world showed “steadily increasing interest” in his work, linking him with his fellow countrymen, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent, without “slight[ing] his art in the exploitation of his race” as was the custom in the U.S. press. Tanner considered himself principally an American artist and he affirmed his right to join the ranks of the cultural elite based on artistic merit and racial equality. Tanner’s life and art challenged his nation’s disingenuous notions of race. When taken in context, his question to Tietjens, “Now am I a Negro?” is far from being a renunciation of his black ancestry and heritage as South would have it. Rather it functions rhetorically as sardonic irony in response to the cruelties and stupidities of white racism…

Read the entire article here.

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