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One of the gifts given to President Biden by members of Congress on Wednesday was an “optimistic” Civil War-era painting by a black landscape artist.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and first lady Jill Biden presented Robert S. Duncanson’s 1859 work “Landscape With Rainbow” during the inaugural gift-giving ceremony.
“For a black artist, painting this painting that’s so much like an American utopia on the verge of a war that we would fight over slavery, makes all of that even more interesting,” Blunt noted.
“While he faced lots of challenges, obviously [he] was optimistic, even in 1859, about America.”
The work was on loan from Smithsonian American Art Museum, which describes Cincinnati-based painter Duncanson as the “best known African American painter in the years surrounding the Civil War.”
The first lady hand-picked the painting, depicting a lush green landscape with people and cows and a rainbow overhead, symbolizing renewal and hope.
“I like the rainbow — good things to follow,” she told the crowd.
“Let’s hope!” Blunt responded.
Normally, a painting such as this one would be on view during the traditional congressional luncheon that follows the inauguration.
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the luncheon was scrapped in favor of the gift-giving ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.
Leaders of Congress presented Biden, 78, and Vice President Kamala Harris with vases, flags and photos during the event.
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