• Sat. Feb 4th, 2023

By Jill Dunne

Cincinnati Art Museum

February is Black History Month–a time to recognize the accomplishments and struggles of Black people throughout history. Join the Cincinnati Art Museum during this time of celebration by exploring works by Black artists in the museum’s permanent collection and upcoming special exhibitions David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History and Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop both on view February 25–May 15, 2022.

Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012)

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Elizabeth Catlett (American, 1915–2012), Phillis Wheatley, 1973, bronze. In 1973, at a conference on women poets, writer Margaret Walker suggested to Elizabeth Catlett that she make a sculpture of Phillis Wheatly, the first published African American poet. Wheatley was born in Senegal and sold into slavery as a child. The Wheatley family of Boston purchased her and provided her with a classical education. After the publication in 1773 of her Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, Phillis Wheatley was emancipated. She was the author of about 145 poems and corresponded with George Washington and other leading statesmen. Invigorated by the Black power and feminist movements, she has specialized in images of empowered women, often Black or Mexican throughout her career.

Robert S. Duncanson (1821–1872)

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Robert S. Duncanson (American, 1821–1872), Blue Hole, Flood Waters, Little Miami River, 1851, oil on canvas. See in Gallery 107. On May 30, 1861, the Cincinnati Gazette hailed Robert Duncanson, “the best landscape painter in the West.” The son of free African American parents, Duncanson painted in the Hudson River School tradition, achieving success despite the racial discrimination of the day. The young Duncanson arrived in Cincinnati, where he would live for most of his life, about 1840. By that time the city was becoming established as the western outpost for landscape painting. Numerous artists called the city their home; significant exhibitions included works by the most influential figures, Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand; and growing wealth supported cultural life. Duncanson’s landscapes, and his equally sensitive still lifes earned him generous patronage, especially among Cincinnati’s prominent abolitionist sympathizers.

Terence Hammonds (b. 1976)

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Terence Hammonds (American, b. 1976), Breakfront Pottery (Cincinnati, Ohio), Wave Pool (Cincinnati, Ohio; est. 2014), Protest Platter, 2020, glazed stoneware, 14”diameter, Cincinnati Art Museum, Terence Hammonds creates work, often print-based, that provokes dialogue about history, race, activism and change. In designing these Protest Platters, Hammonds collected and drew upon approximately 60 images of protest throughout history to create the printed transfers. “I wanted to grab things from various movements, from environmental, civil rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights and gay liberation movements,” he explained.

I wanted the platters to remind us of the social struggles and the people who fought for change, and [who] empower us to keep up that fight in our daily lives.”

Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000)

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Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917–2000), Fruits and Vegetables, 1959, tempera on hardboard. See in Gallery 211.Although narrative series such as The Migration of the Negro earned Jacob Lawrence early fame and success, scenes such as this one depicting daily life in a Black community were a recurring subject throughout his long career. Born in Atlantic City, Lawrence was raised and trained in Harlem, where he began to develop his signature style at an early age. Working in what he referred to as “Dynamic Cubism,” Lawrence melded the fracturing of space he found in early twentieth-century Cubism with a vivid, patterned use of color that recalls traditional African textiles.

Horace Pippin (1888–1946)

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Horace Pippin (American, 1888–1946), Christmas Morning, Breakfast, 1945, oil on canvas. View in Gallery 211. Horace Pippin shows the grandeur in the ordinary lives of common folk. In this autobiographical work, a mother serves pancakes while her son sits patiently with his hands folded in prayer, waiting to eat breakfast. The home’s poverty is evident in the exposed wallboards where large chunks of plaster have fallen away, and the mother’s life of unremitting labor is evident in her bowed back. Yet the painting glows with familial warmth between the two figures, and the neatness of the room suggests domestic order. Pippin took up painting after returning home from World War I. He had sustained permanent injury after being shot in the right shoulder and could no longer support himself as a laborer. During his lifetime, he achieved art world recognition for paintings such as this one.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937)

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Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, 1859–1937), Flight into Egypt, circa 1907–12, oil on canvas in hand-carved and gilded frame, View in Gallery 216. Ghostly figures move stealthily across the foreground in this simplified composition, with its low horizon line and unearthly blue sky. For Henry Ossawa Tanner, whose father was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, biblical themes like the Flight into Egypt provided a means to express his family traditions and spirituality. Tanner may have associated this story from the Book of Matthew, in which the Holy Family flees into the desert to escape persecution by King Herod, with his own struggles against racism and with the experiences of African Americans generally. Tanner settled in France, finding his work judged on its merits there without concern for his race. He owed his Paris education to the support of Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell and his wife Clara, a Cincinnatian, who arranged for his first solo exhibition, held in Cincinnati in 1890.


Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977)

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Kehinde Wiley (American, b. 1977), Portrait of Andries Stilte II, 2006, oil and enamel on canvas. On loan. View in Gallery 150.

Kehinde Wiley challenges history through heroic portraits that reference Old Master paintings by Gainsborough, Titian, Reynolds, and leading artists regularly studied in art history. Identifying subjects from his everyday life in New York, and more recently Senegal, Wiley elevates Black figures through postures and adornments historically assigned to royalty and aristocratic descent in art. His personages take on poses found in classical European paintings and sculptures connoting influence and power.

This painting, on loan from the Columbus Museum of Art, is an early fine example of Wiley’s work leading into his recent bronze sculpture, soon also to be seen at the Cincinnati Art Museum.