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William Edouard Scott (1884 – 1964)

On the Pier
Oil on Canvas Laid Down on Board
12 ⅛ x 8 ½ in. (30.8 x 21.6 cm)

William Edouard Scott (1884 – 1964), an exceptional painter and muralist, was the second African American artist, after Henry Ossawa Tanner, to achieve an international reputation, and the connection between the two preeminent figures goes beyond that. Scott traveled to Paris several times between 1909 and 1914 to further his studies, during which he was mentored by Tanner, and learned much of his palette and impressionist techniques. The loose, expressive brushstrokes and the experimentation with light in Scott’s work evidently reflect some of the attributes of Tanner’s style. However, Scott furthered on that and was able to achieve what Tanner could not. He challenged the definition of “blackness” and crossed the racial barrier of portraying African Americans as the old-time downplayed figures, for which reason Alain Locke would name the characters “New Negro” during the Harlem Renaissance. The work displayed above is a brilliant example.


Characteristic of William Edouard Scott’s depictions of African American life, On the Piers is an elaborate rendering of an African-American fisherman family’s everyday life. Vividly over the canvas, a Black fisherman perches on the edge of a dock, patiently yet tirelessly waiting for a fish to bite. A woman in a shack behind him toils away at her work; two vague dots of blackish brown which might symbolize her eyes are pointed in his direction, caringly watching. Though undated, this painting looks more like the style of the artist prior to his trip to Haiti in 1927. Despite the growing popularity of abstract art in the 1910s, Scott remained true to his representation style. Using wide strokes and creatively portrayed light, shadow, and dimension, Scott painted honest portrayals of African Americans living in poverty and prejudice, not as slaves and caricatures, but as fully realized and wholly unique persons of dignity.

Erica Schreiner

Feminine Transgressions

19 January – 18 February 2023 

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