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


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

Sept. 15–March 2024  


Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and G streets. N.W.  


This focused exhibition highlights the collaboration between two free, Black artists working in Cincinnati during the antebellum period—photographer James Presley (J.P.) Ball and landscape painter Robert Seldon Duncanson. It features three paintings by Duncanson from the museum’s collection 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 for the first time. The museum’s significant holdings by these two artists makes it the only collection in the country that can show the depth of the collaboration between them. 

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. This installation is the first in an occasional series that looks at the democratization of portraiture by photography in the United States.  

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

Note to editors: Selected high-resolution images for publicity only are available through the museum’s Dropbox account. Email americanartpressoffice@si.edu to request the link.

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the flagship museum in the United States for American art and craft. It is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. The museum’s main building, located at Eighth and G streets N.W., is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check online for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.

Press Images

J. P. Ball, Unidentified sitter, 1858–60, daguerreotype
Press - J.P. Ball, Unidentified Sitter

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