Blue Hole, Little Miami River (1851)

Robert S. Duncanson. Blue Hole, Little Miami River. 1851. Cincinnati Art Museum.
Robert S. Duncanson. Blue Hole, Little Miami River. Oil on canvas, 1851. Cincinnati Art Museum.

You can see this painting in a darkened, ornate gallery at the Cincinnati Art Museum. And you can see the place depicted here anytime in Clifton Gorge. The scene looks surprisingly close to what Robert Duncanson saw in 1851. Trees have grown back on the hilltop where the painter stood. State park managers have built a fence with pressure-treated lumber at the river’s edge, as if it could keep skinny-dippers or immersion Baptists from wading in the water. But the river’s outflow at the painting’s focal point still looks as luminousl and revelatory as the day the last glacier retreated.

Robert S. Duncanson was one of the nation’s first African-American painters. He was associated with the Luminists, 19t-century landscape painters like Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. Two Duncanson paintings are exhibited with the Luminists  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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