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Scott, William Edouard Rainy Night, Etaples, 1912


William Edouard Scott, painter and muralist, was the second African American artist, after Henry Ossawa Tanner, to achieve an international reputation. He was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance and has been called the dean of Chicago’s African American artists. He is best remembered as a painter of the life and achievements of African Americans and his example inspired hundreds of aspiring black artists.

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Scott studied art with Otto Stark at the Emmerich Manual Training School. After graduating, he became Stark’s drawing assistant and the first African American to hold a teaching position in an Indianapolis public high school. He continued his studies with Stark and took classes at the Herron Art Institute. Between 1904 and 1909, he attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and also received training in mural painting. Scott traveled to Paris several time between 1909 and 1914 to further his studies, and during these trips he met famed African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, who greatly influenced him.

In 1915, Scott traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama, visited with Booker T. Washington, and stayed in the South for several months studying the life of blacks. Thereafter, he concentrated almost exclusively on representing the lives and work of African Americans. Scott painted dozens of portraits of leading black educators, scientists, and political leaders, including Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglass. He became closely involved with W. E. B. DuBois and other members of the NAACP, and was commissioned to create covers for the organization’s journal, The Crisis. He also illustrated covers for Opportunity, the periodical of the National Urban League. When the Daughters of Indiana organized the Hoosier Salon in 1925 to promote the art of Indiana, Scott was the first African American artist to participate. In 1931, he received a Julius Rosenfeld Fellowship to study and paint in Haiti. He was also the only African American artist to win a competition to execute a mural depicting the contributions of blacks to life in the United States for the Recorder of Deeds office in Washington, DC.

  • Rainy Night, Etaples, 1912
  • 25.5″ x 31″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, urban landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, night, rain, people, streetlights, umbrellas, windows

Between 1910 and 1914, William Edouard Scott visited Henry Ossawa Tanner on several occasions and rented a studio near Tanner’s summer home in Etaples, near Normandy on the coast of France. Scott adopted Tanner’s approach to painting and created tonal landscapes and figurative scenes such as this one. The overall muted colors of the palette, the wonderful sense of light and atmosphere, and the way in which Scott applied his paint to the canvas in broad strokes are similar to the techniques employed by Tanner. Although the painting at first appears to be very blue in tonality, subtle glowing shades of yellow and pink are coming from the streetlamps and windows. Scott’s use of heavy impasto and his inclusion of figures carrying umbrellas convey the feeling of wet pavement and the misty atmosphere of a rainy night.

Some Points to Consider

  • Ask students: How did William Scott create the rainy atmosphere? What did he change about colors, lines, and shapes to achieve the impression of movement? (Art 4.3.1)
  • Help students research the 1914 mural project at the Indianapolis City Hospital (now Wishard). What were the purposes of the project, and what role did Scott play? (Art 4.1.1; Social Studies 4.5.4)
  • Help students research the contributions of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, and W. E. B. Du Bois to American cultural heritage. (Social Studies 4.5.3, 4.5.6)
  • Help students research the contributions of African American artists to Indiana’s cultural heritage. (Art 4.1.1; Social Studies 4.5.6)