Why a Republican Senator Presented President Biden a Civil War-Era Painting by a Black Landscape Artist as an Inauguration Gift

The painting was completed on the eve of the war by Robert S. Duncanson.

Robert S. Duncanson, Landscape with Rainbow (1859). Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

As part of his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States today, Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden received a bounty of gifts from lawmakers, including a large painting by Robert S. Duncanson loaned to the couple by the Smithsonian Museum, and presented by Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.

The 1859 work, titled Landscape With Rainbow, was painted by Duncanson, a Black artist, two years before the onset of the Civil War, and depicts a pastoral scene sparsely populated with cows and people, with a rainbow above that symbolizes renewal and hope.

The work, Blunt noted, was painted in a manner suggesting America as paradise, despite the uncertainty of days ahead.

A painting such as this would normally be on view during the luncheon that follows an inauguration ceremony. But in this nontraditional year, the luncheon was cancelled as President Biden took a private meal and retreated to his new offices to deal with appointments and other presidential business.

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are presented with a painting from US Senator Roy Blunt. January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by WIN MCNAMEE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are presented with a painting from US Senator Roy Blunt. January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by WIN MCNAMEE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Duncanson was born in Cincinnati and was considered the “best known African American painter in the years surrounding the Civil War,” according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which owns the work. Supported by Abolitionists, he traveled to Europe and studied Old Master paintings to hone his craft.

The landscape painting features a couple walking in the direction of a small cottage surrounded by cattle, “reinforcing the sense that man lives in harmony with nature,” according to the museum.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota presented Biden and vice president Kamala Harris with a pair of engraved vases to commemorate the day. Biden’s vase features an image of the White House, and Harris’s features the US Capitol.

“The gifts represent the hope and the faith the American people have placed in you to move our country forward,” Klobuchar said.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, presented Biden with flags that were flown over the Capitol.

Additional reporting by Katie Rothstein. 

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