After moving to Providence from Boston in 1869, Bannister exhibited two portraits that were immediately noted in the local press: this depiction of a young newspaper vendor, and a painting of the prominent abolitionist (and Bannister’s friend) William Lloyd Garrison. In this work, the light-skinned boy is rendered with a muted palette of browns and reds, recalling Bannister’s Portrait of Christiana Carteaux Bannister, c.1860. The right side of the figure’s face is cast in shadow, while his visible features express a sense of worry and burden typically reserved for adulthood. In its straightforward approach, this rare surviving portrayal of an African-American subject by Bannister departs from the sentimental images of homeless and working children that prevailed in the mid-nineteenth century.
Artist and Abolitionist
Edward Mitchell Bannister, Newspaper Boy, 1869
Oil on canvas, 76.6 x 63.7 cm, Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, Gift of Jack Hafif and Frederick Weingeroff (1983.95.85).