In 1910, after six years of training at the Art Institute of Chicago, 26-year-old William Eduoard Scott left his Indiana home to study in France. Once there, he linked with fellow African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner at an artists’ colony, the latter having self-exiled from the United States two decades prior as a result of the relentless racial prejudice he encountered. With his Paris residency, Scott studied at the city’s top art academies before earning exhibits at the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy in London only three years after leaving the States. Along the way, Tanner prompted Scott’s career-long devotion to depicting the achievements of African Americans in his paintings.
With his newfound success, Scott returned to the United States in 1914 and opened a studio in Chicago. Although abstract art, at the time, had become the rage, Scott maintained his representational style as he eschewed stereotypes to capture the dignity and totality of his African American subjects. In 1915, he travelled south to the Tuskegee Institute upon an invitation from its legendary founder, Booker T. Washington. Scott would subsequently produce a well-received double portrait of Washington and popular scientist and Tuskegee faculty member, George Washington Carver.
In 1927, Scott received a special gold medal for fine arts from the Harmon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Among Negroes awards initiative. In 1931, he earned a Julius Rosenwald Fine Arts Fellowship, which enabled him to study in Haiti. Two years later, during the Great Depression, Scott created a mural for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair while working for the Federal Arts Project Mural and Easel division. Because of his accomplishments and ongoing commitment to promoting dignified Black figures and images, Scott was commonly recognized as the “dean of Negro Artists.”
In 1955, while on a painting expedition in Mexico, Scott’s ongoing battle with diabetes forced his return to Chicago. There, he continued painting until his 1964 death in a nursing home. His works are present in such collections as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Tate Gallery in London.
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