In this painting two men are maneuvering a boat onto the grass while two women carrying baskets look on. The group may have just returned from a scenic picnic on the water. The hazy, softly illuminated landscape in the background demonstrates the artist’s careful attention to the atmospheric and tonal qualities of the scene. The bearded man on the left bears a strong resemblance to Bannister and may be a self-portrait, which would make this one of the few paintings by Bannister that features an African-American subject. Despite the artistic success Bannister had achieved by this final stage in his career, in 1891 fellow artist George William Whitaker (1840–1916) protested the under-recognition of Bannister’s art, asking, “Is it right that a man of such power should be allowed to slip through our community without due recognition?”
Artist and Abolitionist
Edward Mitchell Bannister, People Near Boat, 1893
Oil on canvas, 35.6 x 50.4 cm, Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, Gift of Harvey Golden (1983.95.121).