Robert Seldon Duncanson was a well-known landscape painter. He was inspired by artists in the Hudson River School, who painted landscapes in the mountains of New York State. Duncanson was one of the first African American artists to become internationally famous. His work was respected and praised during his lifetime. He was part of a network of free Black artists in Cincinnati, Ohio. The city was a center for art and abolitionist (anti slavery) activity. Duncanson was born free, but he lived most of his life during slavery. He tried to escape racism by going to Canada during the American Civil War.
Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821 – December 21, 1872) was a 19th-century American landscapist of European and African ancestry. Inspired by famous American landscape artists like Thomas Cole, Duncanson created renowned landscape paintings and is considered a second generation Hudson River School artist. Duncanson spent the majority of his career in Cincinnati, Ohio and helped develop the Ohio River Valley landscape tradition. As a free black man in antebellum America, Duncanson engaged the abolitionist community in America and England to support and promote his work. Duncanson is considered the first African-American artist to be internationally known. He operated in the cultural circles of Cincinnati, Detroit, Montreal, and London. The primary art historical debate centered on Duncanson concerns the role that contemporary racial issues played in his work. Some art historians, like Joseph D. Ketner, believe that Duncanson used racial metaphors in his artwork, while others, like Margaret Rose Vendryes, discourage viewers from approaching his art with a racialized perspective.