Edward Mitchell Bannister


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Painter. Known primarily for landscapes, he also painted portraits, historical scenes, and other subjects. Motivated by faith in nature's spiritual harmony, he interpreted undramatic scenery in a moody, painterly style indebted to Barbizon precedents. Perhaps uniquely among American artists of African descent during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, he achieved respect within an almost exclusively white art establishment. Garnering the first national art award given to a black, a landscape took a first prize at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The mixed-race artist was born in the seaport village of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, near the Maine border. As a young man, he worked as a sailor but settled in Boston by 1850. There he worked as a barber and photographer. Largely self-taught as an artist, in Boston he attended lectures by William Rimmer and probably came into contact with William Morris Hunt. About 1870 he moved permanently to Providence, where he became a leading member of its art community. He participated in organizing the Providence Art Club (still in existence), which established the Rhode Island School of Design. He continued to paint into the 1890s, despite poor health in later years and diminishing recognition. Bannister's sensitive Newspaper Boy (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1869) demonstrates familiarity with Hunt's figural works in its attention to contour, flattened volume, and painterly surface. One of his best-known landscapes, Approaching Storm (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1886) responds to impressions of time and place as a small figure scurries into the wind beneath a lowering sky. A free and vigorously impastoed surface suggests rocks and vegetation. Translating emotional response into color and texture, it recalls the period's French-inspired landscapes by such artists as George Inness and Homer Martin.

Subjects: Art.

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