I have half a mind not to post this during Black History month. If Edward M. Bannister’s legions of fans had their way, Mr. Bannister would not always be identified as a talented Black American landscape artist. That classification simply belies his reputation within the art world. In fact, his gifts were proven in no uncertain terms very early on, when in 1876 he submitted a painting to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, anonymously. Murray Whyte describes the scene in the Boston Globe:
Bannister’s painting “Under the Oaks,” entered anonymously as “number 54,” landed the exhibition’s most-important prize. Bannister had come to claim it. At the judges’ table, an impatient official waved him away. “I was not an artist to them, simply an inquisitive colored man,” Bannister wrote. When he revealed that he, in fact, was number 54, “[a]n explosion could not have made a more marked impression. Without hesitation he apologized to me, and soon everyone in the room was bowing and scraping to me.”
By this time, Bannister and his equally accomplished wife, Christiana Carteaux Bannister — she gets her own post, don’t worry — had moved from Boston to Providence finding kindred spirits in the artistic community here, and in 1880 Edward Bannister became a founding member of the Providence Art Club. Rosalyn Delores Elder wrote about Bannister’s professional and personal life last fall for Historic New England:
Being a black man in America could have consigned his career to mere survival at best and failure at worst. Despite that reality, Bannister achieved commercial success and critical acclaim with a laser-focused determination, driven in part by his intention to disprove beliefs that people of African descent could not develop the aesthetic sensibility to create art.
Seen here is the newly commissioned bust of Edward Bannister now situated on the first floor of Dodge House at the Providence Art Club. Sculptor Gage Prentiss really hit it out of the park with this one. We wrote about the bust when it arrived on the scene last December. It is fantastic.
More biography and images at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
And below is his silhouette, the first of the famous silhouettes that adorn the walls in The Club House.
The Providence Art Club, 11 Thomas Street, (directions)
A photo portrait of Bannister surveys the scene in a much-used passageway.