The Afric-American Picture Gallery: Imagining Black Art, circa 1859


ACLS Fellowship Program


Afro-American Studies


William J. Wilson's 1859 periodical fiction, the Afric-American Picture Gallery, is a stunning and singular text that imagines the first museum of black art in the United States. This project is an intensive study of Wilson's Picture Gallery, a deeply visual and experimental text that reproduces no actual images but relies instead on the powers of ekphrastic description. It has two major aims: to situate the Picture Gallery within key political and aesthetic debates of the 1850s as well as cultures of black cosmopolitanism and queer bohemianism in late antebellum New York; and to chronicle how the Picture Gallery anticipates later genealogies of African American art and contributes to current conversations about the politics of black museums and art institutions in society.