Robert S. Duncanson was born in Seneca County, New York in 1821 to an African American
mother and a Scottish Canadian father. Duncanson spent his early childhood in Canada
and later he and his mother moved to a small community near Cincinnati, Ohio. It is not
known where Duncanson received his artistic training, but by 1842 he was exhibiting in
the Cincinnati area. With the help of the Freedman's Aid Society of Ohio, Duncanson traveled
to Glasgow, Scotland to study painting in 1853. Upon his return to the United States around
1854, he began painting portraits of prominent white abolitionists from Detroit and Cincinnati,
the cities where he was artistically active. His portraits include that of James G. Birney,
editor of the Philanthropist, an abolitionist newspaper and of Lewis Cass, an abolitionist
senator from Michigan.
Duncanson gained international recognition for his landscape paintings,
which were influenced by the Hudson River School. The Hudson River School was a group of
artists who painted romantic images of America's wilderness, untainted by man.
Their landscape paintings often included moral messages or literary associations and
provided a unique American artistic identity. An extensive traveler, Duncanson depicted
numerous landscape scenes throughout North Carolina, Pennsylvania, England, Canada and Scotland.
In 1863, he again left for Europe to escape the soured race relations brought on by the Civil War.
Four years later, he returned, continuing his work in landscapes and enjoying a particular success
in Cincinnati and Detroit where he had previously exhibited.
Blue Hole, Little Miami River (1851)