Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901)
Edward Mitchell Bannister grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, and moved to Boston in 1848, where he began his experience in the art world as a photographer working with daguerreotypes and tinted photography. A tiny painting, Landscape (1877) demonstrates his photographic eye, for it is a snapshot of a calm summer day. From the other side of the pasture, a young boy has come to check on the grazing cows by the pond and enjoy the serene day before the impeding storm.
Bannister’s work, like Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Street Scene, Paris, has no overt social or racial content, which was not uncommon for African American artists at this time. He steered away from painting figures, and they are added here as a matter of composition, rather than as a subject. Bannister worked in the expressive style of the French Barbizon School of landscape painting, which reveled in the beauty of nature, and differed greatly from the Hudson River School of landscape art popular in the United States in the mid-19th century.
Bannister balances precise realism with Impressionistic atmospheric effects and spiritual expression through his fluid brushwork, some of which is thick with impasto. As with Tanner’s painting style, Bannister’s demonstrates the influence of European artists. The motion and unevenness in the surface of his painting indicate a sense of looseness and liveliness in his imagery. At the same time, the tranquillity of the piece is created through a balanced composition. The hilly pasture balances the large, strong trees up front. The fact that neither the trees nor the cows are directly centered prevents the image from becoming too severe and animates the composition.
A religious man, Bannister seemed to have had little interest in expressing his views on race, but rather focused on conveying moral sentiment and seeking to represent God through nature and atmospheric overtones. The painting’s small size suggests that it was an oil sketch, and perhaps created in preparation for a larger work. Bannister gave Landscape as a housewarming gift to the Providence art supplier Charles Caulder, as indicated by a handwritten note on the back of the painting.
For further reading:
Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe. Sharing Traditions: Five Black Artists in 19th Century America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1985. Print.
Holland, Juanita Marie. Edward Mitchell Bannister, 1828-1901. New York: Kenkeleba House and Harry N. Abrams, 1992. Print.
Patton, Sharon. African American Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
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