19thc Neoclassicism (1776-1860s)
Neoclassicism was an art movement occurring in tandem with the Federal period. The movement also looked to Greek and Roman motifs. During this time period, Black artists found difficulty in establishing themselves in the visual arts world because of race. Most financial success was gained in producing work based on popular European styles. Many 19th century Black artists moved to Europe to study in art academies as well as escape racial prejudice.
Learn more about this period here.
One artist from the period was Mary Edmonia Lewis (1844-c.1911), Sculptor. Lewis was the first Black sculptor to achieve international success. She moved to Italy in 1865 and settled in Rome where there was a thriving expatriate community of artists and writers. While her style was Neoclassical, the subject matter was based in the struggles against the institution of slavery, female oppression, and Indigenous American cultures. By 1870, Lewis was internationally known earning her commissions, exhibitions, and sales. Learn more about Lewis here.
Her piece, Forever Free (Morning of Liberty) 1867- 1868 is one of Lewis’s first statues. Two freed slaves are her subjects in honor of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. The imagery portrays Black empowerment which was in opposition to other portrayals of African American at the time such as Thomas Ball’s, Emancipation, 1874.