J. P. Ball and Robert S. Duncanson: An African American Artistic Collaboration

J. P. Ball, Unidentified sitter, 1858–60, daguerreotype

J. P. Ball, Unidentified sitter, 1858-60, ninth plate daguerreotype with applied color; half-cased, Smithsonian American Art Museum, the L. J. West Collection of Early African American Photography, Museum purchase made possible through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

This installation features examples from SAAM’s collection of early photography and landscape paintings from the mid-nineteenth century. 


This installation highlights the collaboration between two free, Black artists working in Cincinnati, Ohio, during the antebellum period—photographer James Presley (J. P.) Ball and landscape painter Robert Seldon Duncanson. It features three paintings from SAAM’s collection by Duncanson alongside nine works by Ball. Eight of the photographic works were recently acquired by the museum from the L. J. West Collection and the Dr. Robert L. Drapkin Collection and are on view in SAAM’s galleries for the first time.

Ball and Duncanson collaborated from roughly 1845 to 1855. Ball’s studio included an exhibition space that displayed his photographs and Duncanson’s landscape paintings to the public. Ball employed Duncanson in his studio to hand-tint photographs. Although Ball photographed Black clients, including the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the photographs in this installation reflect how often white families and individuals in Cincinnati patronized Ball.

The exhibition is organized by John Jacob, the McEvoy Family Curator for Photography; Eleanor Harvey, senior curator; and Jill Rothschild, Luce Foundation Curatorial Fellow.

Visiting Information

September 15, 2023 March 24, 2024
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m
Free Admission


SAAM Stories

A painting of a landscape with a rainbow.
Curator Eleanor Harvey shares the story of Robert S. Duncanson and his artwork
A photograph of Eleanor Harvey
Eleanor Jones Harvey
Senior Curator (19th-Century Art)