FEATURE OF THE MONTH
African American Artists before the Twentieth Century
Each month, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. This month the feature highlights African American fine artists active before the twentieth century.
Due to the enormous difficulties encountered by African Americans in the pursuit of the fine arts, evidence of black painters before the late nineteenth century comes not from paintings presently in museums or private collections, but from newspapers advertising their services. As with early American art in general, African American art largely consisted of folk arts and crafts produced anonymously for everyday use. As a result, very little work produced before the Civil War, which we would today identify as art, survives. In spite of the difficulties dealt with by artists, both free and slave, skilled African American fine artists began to appear as early as the late colonial period. Using images and text, Anthony Aiello and Jason Miller examine the lives and art of eight African American men and women who found success as painters or sculptors before the twentieth century.
View photo essay
The following articles have been selected to guide readers who want to learn about African American fine artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)