Afric-American Picture Gallery Analysis

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William Wilson takes his readers on a guided tour of an undisclosed art collection in his monthly contribution to the Anglo-African Magazine, the “Afric-American Picture Gallery.” Wilson published this series in 1859, when the United States was on the cusp of the Civil War and when slavery was the issue of the times. Wilson’s picture gallery contains descriptions of art objects all pertaining to the idea of slavery. This gallery is intriguing because Wilson does not mention the location of the gallery or the names of the artists whose work is featured. Pictures five and six— “The Underground Railroad”— are particularly intriguing because of the secrecy surrounding the operations of the underground as well as the unique way in which the images …show more content…
Wilson was writing during the era of black minstrelsy, which had it beginnings in the 1830s and continued through the 1920s. (“Summary of the History of Minstrelsy”) Portraits of blacks were often exaggerated in a grotesque and distasteful manner. Many abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, were ghastly appalled by such portrayals. Frederick Douglass said in April of 1849, “It is this, Negroes can never have impartial portraits at the hands of whites. It seems to use next to impossible for white men to take likenesses of black men, without most grossly exaggerating their distinctive features… They associate with the Negro face, high cheek bones, distended nostril, depressed nose, thick lips, and retreating foreheads. This theory impressed strongly upon the mind of an artist exercises a powerful influence over his pencil, and very naturally leads him to distort and exaggerate the those peculiarities, even when they scarcely exist in the original.” (Burns, Davis …show more content…
brawn” argument, on which he takes sides with “brains.” Wilson is one to believe knowledge is power. In fact, he was an educator who dedicated his time to teaching blacks. (“ Abolitionist Biographies”) The aspect of slavery that particularly appalled Wilson was the dumbing down of slaves. Slaveholder did everything in their power to keep their slaves as uneducated and unknowledgeable as possible. As more articles were printed about the underground railroad, slave owners become increasingly concerned that these reports could spur their slaves into action (Foner 215). This likely another motivation for Wilson: to educate blacks still in slavery that there is a way

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