A Civil War-Era Painting by a Black Artist was Gifted to Biden on Inauguration Day

The Black, Civil War-era artist's career was bolstered by abolitionists, who bought his paintings and funded his trips to Europe.

President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden take in the Duncanson painting. YouTube / 10 Tampa Bay

On Wednesday, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States; a ceremony that was accompanied by all the pomp and circumstance that’s to be expected from our tradition-obsessed nation. Amidst the notable fashion moments, pop star performances and a Bernie Sanders meme, a traditional gift-giving ceremony bore genuinely interesting fruit: Dr. Jill Biden presented the newly-inaugurated president with Landscape with Rainbow, a painting that was completed in 1859 and which belongs to the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The painting was made by Robert Seldon Duncanson, the most widely-known African American painter in the years leading up to the Civil War, and the canvas has an otherworldly feel that suggests the Garden of Eden.

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In addition to Dr. Jill Biden, the painting was also the gift of Republican senator Roy Blunt. “[The painting] is sort of this ‘classic America as a paradise’ painting that a lot of painters were doing then,” Blunt said during the gift ceremony, according to People. “For him, a Black artist, painting this painting that’s so much like an American utopia on the verge of a war that we would fight over slavery, makes all of that even more interesting…while he faced lots of challenges, obviously [he] was optimistic, even in 1859, about America.” Additionally, while he was alive, Duncanson’s artistic career was supported by American abolitionists, who purchased his paintings and bankrolled a trip to Europe so that he could study with the Old Mas​ters.

Certainty that the future will involve change, ease and happiness is a deeply American trait; since the inception of the nation, countless hopes have been pinned upon the concept of the next frontier. Joe Biden receiving this painting as a gift symbolizes that his presidency is expected to return peace and utopian stability to a deeply wounded country, and that’s an extremely tall order.

A Civil War-Era Painting by a Black Artist was Gifted to Biden on Inauguration Day