Canvases by African-American painter Henry O. Tanner hang in the White House and the National Gallery of Art. Less familiar, however, is the name of Tanner’s protégé, once known as the “dean of Negro artists.”
Indiana native William Edouard Scott studied with Hoosier Group artist Otto Stark at Manual High School in Indianapolis, graduating in 1903 to pursue his art studies at the Art Institute of Chicago.
An art prize facilitated his travel to France, where he connected with the expatriate Tanner, who had made his home there in an attempt to avoid the racially charged reception of his work in the States.
In addition to Tanner’s mentoring, while in France Scott undertook training at two prestigious academies, and had his paintings accepted into the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy in London.
Along with a bent for storytelling, Scott’s rigorous academic training and the dignity with which he rendered African American subjects earned him a key role during the era of public art commissions.
Completing twenty murals in Chicago and Indianapolis schools in 1915 alone, Scott’s friezes were also commissioned for the Indianapolis City Hospital (now Wishard) and the city’s Senate Avenue Y.M.C.A, along with the headquarters of Chicago’s black newspaper.
Scott’s depiction of a significant scene in African American history was installed in the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C. in 1942; the mural Frederick Douglass Appealing to President Lincoln still decorates the federal landmark.
Scott’s atmospheric portrait of Tanner’s home, A Rainy Night in Etaples, hangs in the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Credited with having energized the Haitian art scene during a lengthy sojourn there, William Edouard Scott celebrated the culture of Americans of African heritage through his murals, easel paintings and magazine illustrations.
The painter passed away in 1964 at age 80.