EDWARD M. BANNISTER (1828 - 1901) Untitled (Cow Herd in Pastoral Landscape).
Oil on linen canvas, 1877. 711x1219 mm; 28x48 inches. Signed and dated in oil, lower left.
Provenance: Harry DeGrummond, Salado, Texas; private collection, Texas (1980); thence by descent to the current owner, private collection, Oklahoma. This painting was found in the contents of Twelve Oaks, a historic two-story stone mansion in Salado, Texas, when it was purchased with the DeGrummond estate in 1980. Twelve Oaks was built in 1867 by Dr. Benjamin McKie (1825 - 1883), and restored by Harry DeGrummond in the 1930s. The Greek-Revival mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places.
This impressive scene of a herd of cows in a Rhode Island landscape is a large and significant mid-career painting by Edward Mitchell Bannister. The pastoral scene is rendered in rich harmonious tonalities captured in the light at dawn. The herdsman at the center of the horizon brings the viewer into a composition that shows Bannister's affinities with the Barbizon masters Jean-François Millet and Camille Corot. Upon closer inspection, Bannister's impastoed brush strokes and palette knife application in the foreground also show the influence of Gustave Courbet.
Born and raised in Canada, where the British had abolished slavery, Edward Bannister was able to demonstrate and develop his talent at a young age. Working as a seaman, the young man travelled the Northeastern coast until he found work in the arts hand-coloring daguerreotypes in New York. In the early 1850s, Bannister established himself as a young regionalist painter in Boston, one of its first African-American artists. He studied at the Lowell Institute, and received his first commission in 1855. In 1870, Bannister and his wife moved from Boston to Providence, where he became an active professional artist and respected leader in the artistic community. Bannister famously won first prize in painting at the U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia with Under the Oaks in 1876 - beating out such established figures as Albert Bierstadt and Frederick Church. He had other success with awards in Boston at the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association in 1878 winning bronze, and in 1881 and 1884 winning silver. Bannister also helped found the Providence Art Club in 1878, which became the model for the Rhode Island School of Design. In his Barbizon-like landscapes, he produced a poetic view of tranquil lands with people and animals in harmony. According to John Nelson Arnold, a fellow artist and friend, "Bannister looked at nature with a poet's feeling. Skies, rocks, fields were all absorbed and distilled through his soul and projected upon the canvas with a virile force and a poetic beauty." Lewis, p. 38; Rodgers p. 12; Salado Historical Society (brochure) p. 33.