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Robert S. Duncanson, Landscape with Rainbow, 1859, oil on canvas, 30 × 52".

Robert S. Duncanson Painting Presented to Biden Administration

Following his inauguration this morning as the forty-sixth president of the United States, Joe Biden was presented by Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri with a painting by Robert S. Duncanson, a prominent Black painter of the Hudson River School. The presentation of the work, Landscape with Rainbow, 1859, which is on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, took place during a gift-giving ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda. The event replaced the congressional luncheon that traditionally follows the inauguration ceremony but was forgone this year owing to the continuing Covid-19 crisis. Instead, members of Congress presented gifts to the Bidens and to Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.

Describing Hudson as the “best-known African American painter in the years surrounding the Civil War,” Blunt acknowledged the efforts of first lady Jill Biden in choosing the work by the Cincinnati-based artist. “I asked Dr. Biden to help pick the painting,” he said, “and this is the one she recommended.”

The work is “a classic America-as-paradise painting,” Blunt said, remarking on the significance of the painting’s utopian view of the nation in contrast to the looming Civil War. The Smithsonian’s website details the work as a “pastoral landscape” in which a “young couple strolls through fertile pastureland, toward a house at the end of a rainbow. The cattle head home toward the nearby cottage, reinforcing the sense that man lives in harmony with nature. Duncanson’s vision of rural America as Arcadia, a landscape akin to paradise, is a characteristic feature of his work, a late hope for peace” before the onset of the war.

“I like the rainbow, good things to follow,” Jill Biden noted.

“Let’s hope,” Blunt replied. 

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