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Child's Portrait

Object Details

Thomas Hunster
Between 1875 and 1929
oil on paper mounted to paperboard
14 7/16 × 17 5/8 × 1/4 in. (36.6 × 44.7 × 0.7 cm)
Although primarily a still life and landscape painter, Thomas Watson Hunster (1851-1929) also painted portraits, like this oil painting of a young child with brown eyes and short, wavy hair. Situated in the center of a dark oval, she wears an orange dress edged in white lace and holds a translucent shawl in her left hand. Professor Hunster maintained his own artistic practice while innovatively guiding art instruction at every level of Black public schools in Washington, DC’s segregated system from 1875 to 1922.
Though he moved to the District intending to stay only until he earned enough to study in Paris, a year-long job teaching drawing became a forty-eight year career as an art educator. His collaborations with students did travel abroad, however, taking the form of a nine-part diorama displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Visitors needed no translation to understand clay scenes that first showed a newly emancipated African American family of meager means in 1865, then culminated in a model of the renowned M Street High School, where African Americans received world-class educations from teachers like Professor Hunster. He and his students also contributed artwork to the 1902 Charleston Exposition and 1907 Jamestown Ter-Centennial. Though, like public schools under Jim Crow laws, the three expositions featured separate spaces for African American exhibitions, Professor Hunster ensured that the artwork on display clearly communicated African American achievement, especially by students, while advocating for civil rights.
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