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October 06, 2021

Acquisition: Edward Mitchell Bannister

Edward Mitchell Bannister, "Palmer River", 1885

Edward Mitchell Bannister
Palmer River, 1885
oil on canvas
overall: 61.6 x 86.6 cm (24 1/4 x 34 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Purchased as the Gift of Anonymous

Edward Mitchell Bannister (c. 1828–1901), an African American artist who worked in Boston during the 1860s and in Providence, Rhode Island, following the Civil War, is now recognized as a key figure in the history of American landscape painting. The National Gallery has acquired Palmer River (1885), one of Bannister’s most accomplished paintings. It is the first work by the artist to enter the collection.

Privately owned since the 19th century, the painting features a shoreline view of the Palmer River, which flows south through Rhode Island near Providence. Dipping low over the calm waters of the river, a distinctive band of clouds renders the work as much a study of weather as of landscape.

Denied access to formal training because of his race, Bannister supported himself as a barber and photographer until the mid-1860s when he gained admission to sculptor William Rimmer’s evening drawing class—his first formal training. Shortly after, he secured space in the Studio Building in Boston where he worked alongside professional artists including John La Farge and Elihu Vedder. Inspired by the work of William Morris Hunt, whose Barbizon-influenced paintings were frequently on view in Boston, Bannister began to explore landscape painting.

Actively involved in the abolitionist movement in Boston during the 1850s and 1860s, Bannister moved to Providence following the war. During the final years of his career he focused almost exclusively on the pastoral landscapes for which he is best known today.

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