Oil on canvas
30 3/4 x 36 in.
signed l.l. in red pigment: .Duncanson. \ 1869
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
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.