Oil on canvas, 17.75 x 29.29.75 inches/Signed lower left
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Bannister born in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada is best known today for his tonalist landscapes and coastal scenes of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. He was of mixed race, his father from Barbados and his mother from New Brunswick. His father died in 1832 and his mother in 1844. Thereafter, Bannister and his younger brother, William, went to live on the farm of Harris Hatch, a wealthy merchant. Although his mother had encouraged his interest in sketching and water color, and Hatch further exposed the brothers to music, literature, and art, both brothers went to seas, which was customary for the young men of St. Andrews. In 1848, Bannister and William moved to Boston, where he opened a barbershop for the black community. In 1857 he married Christiana Carteaux, a Narragansett Indian who was born in North Kingston, Rhode Island. She was a wig maker and operated a hair dressing salon in Boston. As the story goes, he had met her when he had applied for work at her salon in 1853. Bannister attributed much of his success as an artist to her critical eye, business acumen and her strong support of him as an artist. In 1858, Bannister was listed as an artist in Boston's city directory and was a member of Boston's black art community, along with sculptor Edmonia Lewis, portraitist Nelson A. Primus, and William H. Simpson. Circa 1862 spent a year in New York City studying finishing and enlarging daguerreotypes, tinting photos and working as a photographer, which he continued upon his return to Boston. More importantly, though, he continued painting and in 1864 was commissioned to paint the portrait of Prudence Nelson Bell, a former slave whose freedom her granddaughter’s husband bought and then brought her to Boston. Bannister also painted a portrait of Robert Gould Shaw, an abolitionist, who was in command of the 54th Massachusetts regiment, the first all-black regiment in the Northeast. Bannister was a self-taught artist, never having taken lessons in painting, although he studied anatomy with the well-known doctor and artist William Rimmer at the Lowell Institute in Boston. Bannister adopted a tonalist style, perhaps influenced by Boston artist William Morris Hunt, who was a proponent of the French Barbizon plein air style of painting. In 1869 the Bannisters moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he concentrated on landscape painting. He became friends with the "Dean of the Providence Painters", George William Whitaker, and Charles Stetson. Bannister himself was one of the most respected artists in Providence. In 1878 he was appointed to the board of the Rhode Island School of Design and in 1880, Bannister and other artists founded the Providence Art Club. They held their first meeting in Bannister’s studio. He loved sailing and owned a sloop, the “Fanchon”, which he sailed in the Narragansett Bay while sketching and painting. Bannister exhibited Boston Art Club (1860s); the Centennial International Exposition of 1876 (Philadelphia, PA, bronze medal); Providence Art Club; Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (1872, 1881, 1888, medals); and the National Academy of Design (NYC, 1879).