Skip to Main Content

Frederick Douglass and the Visual Arts in Washington, DC

Sarah Cash, associate curator, department of American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art, and Ka’mal McClarin, museum curator, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Collection, National Park Service. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) is revered as an abolitionist, statesman, orator, reformer, essayist, and autobiographer. But it is less commonly known that he was also a steward of the arts. In this presentation held on October 2, 2017, as part of the Works in Progress lecture series at the National Gallery of Art, Ka’mal McClarin traces Douglass’s love of art through his personal collection preserved at Cedar Hill, his Anacostia home from 1877 until his death in 1895. The house is furnished much as it was during Douglass's lifetime, with paintings and photographs depicting people and places significant to the family and to African American history. Sarah Cash discusses Douglass’s interest in the Corcoran Gallery of Art collection using contemporary diary entries and newspaper articles, as well as museum catalogs and works of art kept at Cedar Hill. Among his favorite Corcoran works were Richard Norris Brooke’s A Pastoral Visit (1881) and Emily Renouf’s The Helping Hand (1881). While visiting the Corcoran in 1892 he also surely saw Frederic Edwin Church’s Niagara (1857) and Hiram Powers’s The Greek Slave (1841-1843). Douglass had a keen interest in Niagara Falls, and he owned several prints and photographs depicting the majestic site.