The Caves

Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821–1872)

Object Details

  • 1869
  • Medium:
  • Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:
  • 36 X 30 3/4
  • Accession Number:
  • 2012.8
  • Artwork Credits:
  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Object Description

During his lifetime, Duncanson was respected for his natural talent at representing the landscape, a remarkable achievement for a self-taught black artist of his time. In the prosperous city of Cincinnati, Ohio, the community of abolitionists became Duncanson’s patrons, among them Richard Sutton Rust, who first owned The Caves.

During the mid-nineteenth century, caves were popular attractions, offering visitors escape from industrialization. Subterranean journeys were promoted as educational excursions for travelers, and caves offered guided tours. Here, Duncanson includes a guide in the shadows holding a lantern at the cave’s mouth. But might the painting have symbolic meaning beyond a depiction of an actual vacation destination? Caves frequently served as stops on the Underground Railroad, so it is possible Duncanson is alluding to the Civil War in this work.

Educator Resources

Essential Questions

  • Why do artists paint landscapes?
  • How do artists create depth, light, and texture in landscape paintings?
  • How do landscape artists provide viewers a sense of scale in their artworks?
  • How did the way people engaged with the land change during the nineteenth century? How do people engage with the land today?
  • Why were serene landscapes popular during the post-Civil War era?

Suggested Activities (pre-k–3rd grade)

The people we see in the painting traveled to enjoy this spot and the adventures they could have here. When you travel, and finally arrive at your destination, what are some things you do? Do you explore, go to a park, go on an adventure? Students can draw their adventure at the destination of their choice.

Suggested Activities (4th–6th grade)

Imagine that you are a reporter who can travel back in time. Your assignment is to travel back to the 1860s/70s to interview the internationally famous painter, Robert Seldon Duncanson. Think about what you and your readers might want to know about the artist.

Location: On View
Part of: Paintings