This detailed, panoramic view of Asheville, North Carolina, is one of many paintings that led 19th-century critics and patrons, as well as the public, to call Robert Duncanson "the best landscape painter in the West."
The first artist of African American descent to gain national and international acclaim, Duncanson emerged in the 1850s as the principal painter in and around the Cincinnati area. During the summers of 1850 through 1852, he traveled and sketched in the Ohio River Valley, visiting the western North Carolina city of Asheville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A View of Asheville, North Carolina depicts two figures looking out over the valley, one touching the shoulder of the other and motioning toward the town. The focal points of the work, however, are the dramatic mountain range in the background and the sky above, which displays the elegant transition from the golden glow of the sun at right to blue at center. Gnarled and blasted trees bracket the image, an allusion to the passage of time and America's primordial past. Juxtaposed against the cleared valley and developing city below, they warn about man's encroachment on and destruction of nature.