I was wondering about the first known African-American artist and about the representation of Blacks in American art. I was wondering if the two might even be related – from whose point of view were we seeing Blacks in American art – and did the representation change once African-American artists started painting?
Images of African-Americans in Antebellum Era Art
All through the 1800s, White artists depicted African-Americans as anonymous figures in the background, as unimportant figures in a larger group – never as the main focus of the painting. They were shown as waiters or as poor rural folk who are content with their lot in life. While Joshua Johnson showed sophisticated African-Americans in portraits, White artists showed them as poor marginalized figures.
All through the Antebellum Era, African-Americans were a side note in art – they were not given center stage until after the Civil War when pioneering artists like Henry Ossawa Tanner put them there.