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 Edward Mitchell Bannister  (1828 - 1901)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New Brunswick / Canada      Known for: idealized landscape, marine, portrait and still life painting

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Edward Mitchell Bannister
from Auction House Records.
Cows in a Pasture
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Edward Mitchell Bannister (b. 1828 sometimes listed as 1826 or 1833- d. 1901)

He was the best-known landscape painter associated with Rhode Island in the late 1800s, and was the first African-American artist to win national recognition.  At the Philadelphia World Centennial of 1876, Edward Bannister was the only New England artist to win a bronze medal.

Born and raised in the small seaport town of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, Bannister had a long path to becoming a fine artist and ultimately attributed his art talents to his belief in God.  He was the son of a black man from Barbados and a white woman from Canada. All British provinces abolished slavery shortly after Bannister's birth, giving him the latitude to develop his interest for art, studying the major established artists, while living as a free Black. His mother encouraged his interest in art, and he made his earliest studies, in drawing and watercolor, at the age of ten. Harris Hutch introduced Bannister and his brother to the classics of music, literature, and art.

During these formative years, he spent every opportunity doodling with crayons and charcoal. By the time he was sixteen, both of his parents had passed away, prompting a more rapid maturation. After working as a cook on vessels on the Eastern seaboard, he moved to Boston with his brother in 1848, where he set himself up as a barber serving the black community.

During the 1850s and 1860s he learned the technique of solar photography, a process of enlarging photographic images that were developed outdoors in daylight, which he continued to practice while working in Boston and New York.

Documented paintings from this time include religious scenes, seascapes and genre subjects, for example the noted Newspaper Boy (1869), a rare study of urban black experience.

By the mid 1860s, he was studying under Dr. William Rimmer at the Lowell Institute and painting landscapes, portraits, religious, and genre subjects. Bannister loved visiting museums, libraries, and art galleries.  Envisioning the potential for photography as an art form, he became an early painter of photographs. He married New York businesswoman Christina Carteaux after meeting her through a black drama group, and it was her stature that probably allowed and encouraged him to become a full time, established painter.

Although he never took formal art training, he was one of a few blacks who attended the Lowell Institute evening program. Financial freedom allowed him to open his own studio, and he painted in a vigorous Barbizon mode, focusing on natures changing moods. Often he included well-drawn and painted figures reacting to the drama of a natural scene, as in Approaching Storm (1886, oil on canvas).

By 1870, when he and Christina moved to Providence, Rhode Island, his landscapes were showing the influence of the Barbizon style, and his work had reached a maturity, infused with his spiritual and emotional responses to nature. His work flourished and his paintings were collected by such patrons as George T. Downing (1819-1903), a wealthy local entrepreneur, and the black soprano Matilda Sissieretta Jones (1868-1933).

Bannister was the only New England artist to win a bronze medal at the 1876 World Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia for his creation, Under the Oaks, (untracked), which made him the first African American artist to win a national award. A contemporary, in referring to Under the Oaks, described it as a 'simple composition, quiet in tone but with strong oppositions' ('Reminiscences of George Whitaker', Providence Magazine, Feb. 1914).

Bannister drew inspiration from Millet and the Barbizon School. While he was conscious of his rights as an American citizen, he did not bring politics into his art but aimed to win recognition for his achievement in landscape painting. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1879.

Edward Bannister was one of the most respected artists in Providence, which was home to many pastoral landscape artists. Bannister was one of the founders of the Providence Art Club, which later assisted in the development of the Rhode Island School of Design.

During the Civil War, he became an advocate of rights for the Union black soldiers.

The last part of his life was marked by ill health and declining patronage, which did not, however, deter him from maintaining a productive output, with 27 paintings dating from the 1890s. Bannister and his wife remained in Providence until his death in 1901.


Sources:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Samella Lewis, African American Art and Artists

Edward Mitchell Bannister is at the following collections in Rhode Island:
Brown University:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Oil painting on board [untitled]--landscape with pond (Edwin A. Burlingame bequest) (acc.# HP 01441)
2. Oil painting on board [untitled]--wooded landscape with cloudy sky (1898) (Edwin A. Burlingame bequest) (acc.# HP 01443)

Brown University--Gardner House:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Oil painting, Sabin Point, Shore of Narragansett Bay (acc.# HP 00942)
2. Oil painting on board [untitled]--pastoral scene with cows (acc.# HP 00938)
3. Oil painting [untitled]--landscape with shallow narrow river & cows standing in it, horizon closed by trees with a farmhouse on the right (acc.# HP 00665)
4. Oil painting on board [untitled]--figure on a path in a country landscape (acc.# HP 00941)

Newport Art Museum:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Oil painting [untitled]--landscape (acc.# 987.003.8)
Items 2-4 are in the collection of the Newport Art Museum by extended loan of the R.I. Black Heritage Society, in trust of Bannister House.
2. Oil painting, Road to a House with a Red Roof (1889) (acc.# E.L. 2.1991.1)
3. Oil painting, Four Cows in a Meadow (acc.# E.L. 2.1991.2)
4. Oil painting, Portrait of Madame Christiana Corteaux Bannister (acc.# E.L. 2.1991.3)

Newport Historical Society:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Oil painting [untitled]--landscape with cows in a field near ocean (1895) (acc.# 77.2)

Newport Hospital:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Oil painting, Leucothea Rescuing Ulysses (1891)

Providence Art Club:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Oil painting, At Pawtuxet
2. Charcoal drawing, Boy on a Wooded Path
3. Watercolor, Meadow Landscape

Providence Athenaeum:
1. Watercolor [untitled]--landscape with pond
2. Watercolor, Bretton Wood Cove
3. Watercolor wash, unfinished landscape

Rhode Island Black Heritage Society:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Charcoal sketch [untitled] scene along Narragansett Bay
2. Charcoal sketch [untitled] pastoral landscape with cows and house
3. Watercolor [untitled] landscape with cows
4. Charcoal sketch [untitled landscape with cows at a pond
5. Charcoal sketch [untitled] landscape
6. Pencil sketch with white highlight on light blue paper [untitled] landscape of cows in a road with one figure
7. Watercolor/pencil, unfinished [untitled] landscape of a grove of trees
8. Three paintings on extended loan to Newport AM--see listing there

Rhode Island Historical Society:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Oil painting, Governor Sprague's White Horse (acc.# 1973.66.1)

Rhode Island Historical Society--Graphics Dept.:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
A.E. Club Collection (Ann Eliza Club Collection) (acc.# 1968.73)
1. Charcoal(?) sketch [untitled]--landscape (1886)
2. Pencil sketch, Gathering faggots

Rhode Island School of Design:
(Note: Access restricted, appointment required)
1. Painting, "After the Shower" (19th c.) (acc.# D21.451)
2. Oil painting on canvas, "At the Oakside Beach" (1877) (acc.# 13.829)
3. Painting, "Cows in Landscape" (19th c.) (acc.# D13.900x)
4. Painting, "Distant City" (19th c.) (acc.# D13.875)
5. Painting, "House by the Sea" (19th c.) (acc.# D13.832)
6. Painting on cardboard, "Landscape" (19th c,.) (acc.# D13.889)
7. Painting, "Landscape" (1878) (acc.# 13.899)
8. Oil painting, "Landscape" (1882) (acc.# 13.901)
9. Oil painting on canvas, "Landscape" (1884) (acc.# 15.085)
10. Oil painting on canvas, "Landscape" (1897) (acc.# 79.151)
11. Watercolor drawing, "Landscape" (acc.# D13.902)
12. Painting, "Landscape" (1885) (acc.# D15.084)
13. Painting, "Landscape--Last Glow" (1891) (acc.# D16.016)
14. Oil painting, "Landscape--Summer Day" (19th c.) (acc.# D13.831)
15. Painting on cardboard, "The Lane" (1879) (acc.# D13.890)
16. Painting, "Near Lake Quinsigamund, Worcester, Massachusetts" (19th c.) (acc.# 25.005)
17. Oil painting on canvas, "Oaks" (mid 19th-early 20th c.) (acc.# EL014.80)
18. Painting, "Path Through the Pasture: Evening" (1882) (acc.# 29.107)
19. Oil painting on board, "The Palmer River, Rehoboth, MA" (1877) (acc.# 13.900)
20. Watercolor drawing, "Portrait" (acc.# D13.898)
21. Painting, "Study--Cattle" (19th c.) (acc.# D18.193)
22. Painting, "Sunset" (acc.# D001.13)
23. Oil painting on wood, "Westminster Street" (ca. 1895-1900) (acc.# 13.830)

Source:
Unveiled: a directory and guide to 19th century born artists active in Rhode Island, and where to find their work in publicly accessible Rhode Island collections
by Elinor L. Nacheman

 


Biography from Roger King Fine Art, A - G:
Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901) was the first African-American to win major national recognition as an artist.  He was born in Canada and served on some Canadian vessels in an unknown capacity before moving to Boston where he worked as a barber while trying to establish a career as a portrait painter.  He married Christiana Carteaux, a successful businesswoman who owned several hairdressing salons; the two were active in Boston Abolitionist activities.

In 1869 the couple moved to Providence, and in 1876 Bannister was awarded a bronze (first-prize) medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.  He submitted his painting Under the Oaks with no identification other than his signature and later recalled that when he appeared before the awards committee to claim his prize, "an explosion could not have created more of a sensation in that room."  Bannister was deeply committed to fostering the development of art in Providence, and along with colleagues George Whitaker and Charles Stetson was a founder of the Providence Art Club.  He was an avid sailor and made frequent sketching expeditions along the Southern New England coast aboard his yacht 'Fanchon.'

Well-educated and highly spiritual, Bannister was greatly influenced by the French Barbizon school, whose serene view of nature and sympathetic portrayal of laborers coincided with his own belief in "the harmony in all created things."  He also admired the work of American painter Washington Allston, and shared similar interests in Biblical and mythological themes.

Bannister was largely self-taught as an artist, though he studied briefly with William Rimmer of Boston.  Few of his portraits and still lifes survive, and he is best known for his moody, contemplative landscapes and coastal scenes of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.  Bannister was always conscious of his limited formal training and set rigorous technical goals for himself, reportedly destroying his works when they did not please him.  As his career progressed, the prominence of both animals and figures in his paintings receded, and his most successful paintings exhibit a masterful handling of atmospheric effects, land, and water.  By the end of his career, he had achieved a lush, unencumbered style that captured an acute sense of time, place, and mood.  He was generally acknowledged as a painter of "poetic sensibility," a description that is still apt today.

c Roger King Fine Art, Newport

Biography from Borghi Fine Art:
Edward Mitchell Bannister was one of the best-known landscape painters associated with Rhode Island in the late 1800s, and was the first African-American artist to win national recognition.

At the Philadelphia World Centennial of 1876, Edward Bannister was the only New England artist to win a bronze medal.

Born and raised in the small seaport town of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, Bannister was the son of a black man from Barbados and a white woman from Canada.


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Edward Bannister is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Black American Artists



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