National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Sandra and Jacob Terner
Edward Mitchell Bannister became one of the first African American painters to gain national recognition when his landscape Under the Oaks won a first prize at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia (1876). Almost entirely self-taught, Bannister began his career in the 1850s in Boston, where he enjoyed the patronage of that city's substantial black community. He was also a committed abolitionist who continued to advocate for African American rights after the Civil War. When Bannister settled in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1869, his reputation grew as his landscapes and coastal views were exhibited more widely. His name proved unfamiliar, however, to the Centennial Exposition judges, who tried to withhold his prize upon discovering that he was African American. When the other artists threatened to withdraw from the competition if Bannister was denied his medal, the original award was upheld.