Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller 

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (June 9, 1877 - March 18, 1968) was an African-American artist and sculptress, notable as the first to make art celebrating Afrocentric themes.  A multi-talented artist who created poetry and paintings, she is mainly known as a sculptor who explored her African-American roots.  Fuller created emotion-packed work with strong social commentary, and became a forerunner of the Black Renaissance, a movement promoting African-American art.

Meta Vaux Warrick was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a comfortable, middle-class family who trained her in art, music, dance and horseback riding.  Her career as an artist began after one of her high-school projects was chosen to be included in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.  Based upon this work, she won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art (PMSIA), now The University of the Arts College of Art and Design, in 1894.   

 Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller - Talking Skull

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Talking Skull 

In 1898, she received her diploma and teacher's certificate.  Upon graduation in 1899, she traveled to ParisFrance, where she studied with Raphaël Collin,at the Académie Colarossi (sculpture), at the École des Beaux-Arts (drawing) and became a protégé of Auguste Rodin.  By the end of her career in Paris, she had her works exhibited in many galleries, including Siegfried Bing's Salon de l'Art Nouveau (Maison de l'Art Nouveau).

Returning to Philadelphia in 1902, she was shunned by members of the Philadelphia art scene because of the prevailing racial separation and discrimination of the time.  However, this treatment did not prevent Fuller from becoming the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. government commission when she was commissioned to create several dioramas depicting African-American historical events for the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition in 1907. 

 Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller home in Philadelphia

Fuller's home in Philadelphia, at the corner of 12th and Manning, in Center City

In 1909, she married Solomon Carter Fuller, a young, African-American doctor who went on to become a pioneering psychiatrist.  The couple moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1910, close to the Westborough Psychiatric Hospital where Dr. Fuller was employed.  That same year, a fire at a warehouse in Philadelphia destroyed her tools and the paintings and sculptures she had created over the previous sixteen years.  Emotionally devastated by the loss, Fuller turned her energies towards her family.

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller - The Wretched 

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, The Wretched 

Her son Robert Fuller became a teacher at Framingham High School.  Winning numerous awards for her work over her lifetime, Fuller continued to exhibit her work until her last show at Howard University (Washington, D.C.) in 1961. 


There is a middle school (Fuller Middle School) named after her and her husband located in Framingham, Massachusetts.  That school was formerly the Framingham South High School but was converted to its current use when Framingham South and North High Schools merged in 1991.



The time is near (reluctance laid aside)
 I see the barque afloat upon the ebbing tide
While on the shores my friends and loved ones stand.
  I wave to them a cheerful parting hand,
then take my place with Charon at the helm,
 and turn and wave again to them.
Oh, may the voyage not be arduous nor long,
 But echoing with chant and joyful song,
May I behold with reverence and grace,
 The wondrous vision of the Master's face.

- Excerpted from Now Is Your Time! The African-American struggle for freedom, Walter Dean Myers 1991

See also


Great African American sculptors brought to you by Paris-based black painter Ealy Mays




Further reading

  • Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance(1997) by Richard J. Powell and David A. Bailey
  • Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America(1994) byMary Schmidt Campbell
  • 250 years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliographyby Lynn Moody Igoe with James Igoe. New York: Bowker, 1981.

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet 

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet was an African American female sculptor, born March 19, 1890 to William H. Prophet and Rose Walker Prophet, in Warwick, Rhode Island.  She matured into a sculptural artist during the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1918, at the age of 24, Prophet, a high school graduate, enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island.  While attending RISD, she married Francis Ford, whom she later divorced. Prophet began her studies in art, focusing on painting and drawing, especially portraiture.  She immediately began advertising her name in exhibits in Newport and New York though she was not allowed to appear alongside her work due to the color of her skin—being of both African American and Narragansett Indian descent. Gallery owners found her appearance “socially unacceptable”.  Taking a stand to this racial discrimination, Prophet refused to succumb to the times and denied galleries her artwork where she was not accepted.

Leaving behind the racial turmoil she faced in the United States, with financial assistance from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1922, Prophet moved to Paris to further study her newfound passion and to claim the credit her work rightfully deserved.  Prophet found her calling in marble sculptures of life-size faces that vividly portrayed various moods.   While in Paris, she came to the attention of African American artist Henry O. Tanner.  Her work impressed him and he recommended her for the Harmon foundation Prize, which she won.  Her work was exhibited at the Paris August Salons from 1924-1927 and at the Salon d’Automne in 1931 and 1932.

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet - Head of a Cossack 

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Head of a Cossack

In America, her works were exhibited in group exhibitions throughout the 1930’s via the Harmon Foundation and the Whitney Sculpture Biennial.  Returning to the United States in 1932, Prophet realized her work began gaining attention, proving that beyond her skin color she was a true artist.  She was invited to exhibit her art in galleries located in New York and Rhode Island.

In 1939 Prophet moved her studies down to Atlanta, Georgia, and began a career as a professor teaching art students enrolled at both Atlanta University and Spelman College, in her hopes of encouraging the creative minds of youths, the type of encouragement which was unavailable to her with during her early years.  She then realized there was virtually no room for opportunity for her as a Black woman to become part of the Atlanta art community.

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet - Silence 

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Silence

In 1945, Prophet returned to Rhode Island to escape the rejection she had once again faced in the south and attempted to regain her status as an artist.  Due to lack of contacts and networking and in her field, she was forced to basically start her career over.  However, her attempt proved dismal and Prophet was regrettably forced into domestic work.  She did have one known one-person exhibit in 1945 at the Providence Public Library. In 1978, her pieces were part of the “Four from Providence” exhibit at the Bannister Gallery of Rhode Island College.

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet died in 1960.



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Edward Clark

Ed Clarke 

Ed Clark 

"Art is not subject to political games, its importance elevates it above any racial difference. All men of talent, of noble spirit can make it.  All great artists can only do what they esteem to be right. No matter how it appears at first, it will always be beautiful.  I'm still trying to paint that painting...I'm never satisfied with my paintings - but I'm less satisfied with everybody else.  I'm a sum total of my experiences at this point. My art would look different now if I hadn't gone to Paris. I'm not saying this is good or bad.  But it would be different. The experience of Paris is still with me.  Paris was the...freest of cities and a true magnet for artists. We would meet among artists of all countries, with no distinction of class, race or political ideology. We were artists, nothing else."

Ed Clarke - Broom Pusher 

Ed Clark, Broom Pusher

Edward Clark “Ed Clark” is an African American abstract expressionist painter and one of the early experimenters with shaped canvas in the 1950s.  Clark is an American color field painter whose style was shaped by the years he spent in Paris in the early 1950s.  As an African-American who had been raised in the segregated South, Clark found Paris tolerant, and the atmosphere encouraging, and, while there, he developed a sophisticated abstract style that was markedly influenced by the tachist painter Nicolas de Stael.  His early work is remembered for his "push-broom technique," which encouraged his full physical involvement in painting.  He is also noted for the monumental scale of his work, and the fact that he is one of the first painters to have used shaped canvases.

Edward Clark was born in the Storyville section of New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 6, 1926. When he was six, his parents Merion and Edward Sr., moved their family to Baton Rouge where they lived in a shotgun house with his father's great aunt.  At this time, Clark began his elementary schooling, where he was first exposed to drawing.  On one occasion, a nun at his Catholic school issued a challenge to Clark and his classmates: whoever could produce the best tree drawing would receive a gold star. Taking up the challenge, Clark won acknowledgement from his teachers for his artistic abilities as well as the gold star, and this experience awakened in Clark the desire to become an artist.

Two years later, Clark's family relocated north to Chicago.  In 1943, at the age of 17, he left high school and enlisted in the air force during the height of World War II.  He was stationed for two years in the South Pacific and returned to Chicago upon his release.

Ed Clarke - Self Portrait 

Ed Clark, Self Portrait

In 1947, with the aid of the GI Bill, Clark enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago where he studied with painter Louis Ritman.  In 1952, he left Chicago and moved to Paris. As an African-American, this period abroad was pivotal for his development because it allowed for opportunities and experiences that segregation had made unavailable to him in the United States. Once in Paris, he attended the prestigious L’Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and studied with Edouard Goerg and Ossip Zadkine. Clark appreciated the relaxed, workshop environment of the Chaumière - in comparison to what he viewed as the formal and often stifling approach of the Art Institute of Chicago. And, in addition to his training at the Chaumière, he was also exposed to a multitude of artists and movements, including the CoBrA group (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) and the gestural abstraction of L'Art Informelle.  He was especially influenced by the abstractions and thickly impastoed canvases of Russian-born artist Nicolas de Stael, in particular, Stael’s painting of “The Footballers”. From de Stael, Clark adopted the application of bright colors in densely packed, block-like forms. The resulting works were characterized by forms, which seem to be arranged so as to echo one another.

Ed Clarke in his studio 

Ed Clark, In his studio

In 1953, Clark's financial support from the GI Bill ended but he decided to remain in Paris rather than return to the United States, despite the likelihood of financial hardship.  Paris, for Clark, represented a space of social and artistic freedom that was unattainable in the United States where racism prevailed and black art and artists were primarily confined to exhibiting their works in libraries and community centers - spaces that were inferior to the mainstream art galleries. On this, Clark has stated, "Paris was the...freest of cities and a true magnet for artists. We would meet among artists of all countries, with no distinction of class, race or political ideology.  We were artists, nothing else."

While in Paris, Clark shared studio space and also lived intermittently with several other American expatriate artists, including Herbert Gentry and Joan Mitchell.  While he would return to Paris many times throughout his life, during this period Clark not only embraced abstraction but also began painting on a monumental scale.  After experiencing difficulties in finding paintbrushes that could accommodate his work, he created the so-called "push-broom technique," in which he repurposed a janitor's push broom as a paintbrush, which allowed him to paint large surfaces easily.  Like Jackson Pollock, Clark would lay his canvas on the floor and spontaneously pour paint onto it. He would then perform what he termed "the big sweep," which involved him pushing the broom in an accelerated manner that would create bold, broad strokes while adding a sense of speedy and dynamic action to his gestures.  These works are characterized by large fields dominated by few colors (usually three distinct hues) that are rendered in an all-over manner as such they have a great similarity to the works of Mark Rothko and Franz Kline.  

Clark received critical acclaim in France and was lauded by Michel Concil-Lecoste, a critic at the journal Le Monde. In 1953, critic and curator Michel Tapie included Clark in an exhibition of American artists living in France, making Clark the only African American to be included in the exhibition, which was held at the Galerie Craven.  His paintings were also exhibited at several major Parisian galleries including Galerie Creuze, Galerie Maeght and Galerie Huit.  And he was included in Michel Seuphor's 1957 publication Dictionnaire de la Peinture Abstraite.

In 1957, Clark returned to the United States and settled in New York City, where he became a charter member of the Brata Gallery, a small art cooperative that was located on 10th Street.  Several other second-generation Abstract Expressionists were also affiliated with the gallery, including George Sugarmen, Al Held, Sal Romano, and Nicholas Krushenick. At this time Clark began experimenting with "shaped" paintings.  At first this process was forced upon him due to financial problems. He began to paint on paper with the intention to return to the canvas when he was more financially secure.  But after returning to canvas, he added paper to the surface in a way that caused it to stretch over the side of the canvas and hang limp. As a corrective, Clark built an armature under the paper as a support. Consequently, these "shapes" became painting and collage as well as sculpture.

 Ed Clarke

Ed Clark

Clark returned to Paris in 1966 and remained there until 1969.  In 1966 he had a one-man show at Galerie Creuze, where Art International reviewer R.C Kennedy described his brushstrokes paintings as aggressive and violent. During this time, Clark began producing oval shaped paintings, which he saw as a continuation of his experiments with shape. By moving toward a more circular form, he sought to incorporate perception by mimicking the shape of the eye. In the 1970s Clark further evolved this concept with the creation of elliptical-shaped works.

In the 1970s Clark began to travel extensively - to Greece, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, and China - incorporating the colors and experiences of journeys into his painting.  In addition to shifts in his color palette during the course of his career, Clark has also experimented with line and form.  Much of his work during his early period maintained a strong horizontality that was congruent with the push of his broom.  But in the 1980s he abandoned his three-unit color fields for tubular forms that are curved and multi-directional - a contrast to the static color fields of the 1950s.  In the 1990s and the 2000s he began relying on vertical strokes combined with floating masses of color that intermingled with one another across the picture plane, resulting in monumental abstract compositions that reflect his entire career of experimentation with color, form, and line.

Clark currently lives and works in New York City and returns to Paris often.  In addition to his many other accomplishments, he also appears in the Melvin van Peebles film Story of a Three-Day Pass (1967), and painted a mural inside the plane of the late Reginald Lewis, one of the first black CEO of a fortune 500 company and the owner of Beatrice Foods.  Throughout the course of his career Clark has fought to remain relevant and is constantly evolving his style in order to do so. 


Selected Solo Exhibitions

Edward Clark returned to New York in 1956. He and Ted Jones (painter) were the first Afro-Americans that actively participated in the New York Tenth Street galleries. Clark had his first one-man show in 1958 in the Brata Gallery. After the show he soon returned to Paris where he continued to show.

Clark is the first Afro-American painter credited with working on a shaped canvas, an innovation that influenced contemporary art through the 1950s and 1960s. He is also known for his powerful brush stroke achieved with a push broom, large-scale canvases, and his vibrant use of color.  He arrives in Paris each summer and returns to New York City. He had number of well-received exhibitions in both continents.

An exhibit "Beyond Black" featuring Ed Clark, Eugene J. Martin and John T. Scott opened at the LSU Museum of Art, Shaw Center for the Arts, Baton Rouge, LA on Jan. 28-May 8, 2011.

Museums and Collections

Ed Clark’s paintings are included in the permanent collections of The Art Institute of Chicago; the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan; the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, New York; the Metropolitan Museum in New York, NY; the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY; the California Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles, California, the Kresge Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan; the James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland; the Museum of Solidarity in Titograd, Yugoslavia; the Museum of Modern Art in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil; the Centro de Arte Moderno in Guadalajara, Mexico; and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, among others.



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Lois Mailou-Jones

Lois Mailou Jones 

When Lois Mailou Jones showed some of her African-influenced work to professors at the Académie Julian they were skeptical until she reminded them that Picasso and Modigliani had been inspired by African art, too. "If anybody had the right to use it, I had it. It was my heritage” 

Lois Mailou Jones (November 3, 1905 – June 9, 1998) was an artist who painted and influenced others during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond, during her long teaching and artistic career.  She was born in Boston, Massachusetts and is buried on her beloved Martha's Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Cemetery.  Jones began painting as a child and had shows of her work when she was in high school. "Every summer of my childhood, my mother took me and my brother to Martha’s Vineyard island.  I began painting in watercolor which even today is my pet medium."

After graduation from the School of the Museum of Art in Boston, she worked with textiles until a decorator told her that, "You couldn't have done this, you're a colored girl."  She began looking for a way for her name to become known and was turned down for a job at her alma mater.  She was hired by Charlotte Hawkins Brown after some initial reservations, and founded the art department at Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina.  As a prep school teacher, she coached a basketball team, taught folk dancing, and played the piano for church services.  Only one year later, she was recruited to join the art department at Howard University in Washington D.C., and remained as professor of design and watercolor painting until her retirement in 1977.  While developing her own work as an artist, she is also known as an outstanding mentor.

Lois Mailou Jones - Les Fetiches 

Lois Mailou Jones, Les Fetiches 

In 1927, she was awarded a diploma in design with honors and went on to do graduate studies at prestigious schools in the U.S. and France.  She received her bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1945, graduating magna cum laude, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Suffolk University in Boston.  She also has received honorary degrees from Colorado State Christian UniversityMassachusetts College of Art, and Howard University and was elected Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in London.  Her work is in museums all over the world and valued by collectors.

In 1937, for her first sabbatical from Howard University on a general educational fellowship, she went to Paris for the first time where she worked very hard producing 35 to 40 pieces during one year’s time, including "Les Fetiches" a stunning, African inspired oil which is owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and one of her best known works and her first piece which combined traditional African forms with Western techniques and materials to create a vibrant and compelling work.

Lois Mailou Jones - Ubi Girl 

Lois Mailou Jones, Ubi Girl 

The French were so inspiring.  The people would stand and watch me and say, “mademoiselle, you are so very talented.  You are so wonderful.” In other words, the color of my skin didn’t matter in Paris and that was one of the main reasons why I think I was encouraged and began to really think I was talented.

Beginning in the 1920's, the influential black philosopher Alain Locke advised African-American artists to embrace both African art and modernism.  Jones was one artist who, for a while at least, took Locke's advice.  In Paris, she recalled, "all the galleries, the museums were featuring African sculptures, African designs." She remembers showing some of her own African-influenced work to professors at the Académie Julian.  They were skeptical about her abandoning the landscapes she had been painting (she did street scenes like "Le Moulin Rouge"), until she reminded them that Pablo Picasso and Modigliani had been inspired by African art, too. "If anybody had the right to use it," she told them, "I had it. It was my heritage, and so they had to give in."

 Lois Mailou Jones - Africa

Lois Mailou Jones, Africa

After marrying Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel in 1953, Jones traveled and lived in Haiti.  In many of her pieces one can see the influence of the Haitian culture, with its African influences, which reinvigorated the way she looked at the world.  Her work became more abstract and hard-edged, after her marriage to Pierre-Noel.  Her impressionist techniques gave way to a spirited, richly patterned, and brilliantly colored style.

In 1970, she traveled to eleven African countries, which enabled Jones to synthesize a body of designs and motifs that she combined in large, complex compositions.  In 1980, she was honored by President Jimmy Carter at the White House for outstanding achievements in the arts.  Her paintings grace the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait GalleryBoston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Palace in Haiti, and the National Museum of Afro-American Artists and many others.

 Lois Mailou Jones - The Ascent of Ethiopia

Lois Mailou Jones, The Ascent of Ethiopia

In her nineties, Jones still painted.  Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton collected one of her island seascapes "Breezy Day at Gay Head" while they were in the White House.  Lois felt that her greatest contribution to the art world was "proof of the talent of black artists."  “The African-American artist is important in the history of art and I have demonstrated it by working and painting here and all over the world." But her fondest wish was to be known as an "artist" -- without labels like black artist, or woman artist. She has produced work that echoes her pride in her African roots and American ancestry.

After her death, her friend and advisor, Dr. Chris Chapman completed a book about her life and the African American pioneers she had worked with and been friends with, including Dr. Carter G. WoodsonAlain LockeDorothy WestJosephine Baker, and Matthew Henson. Entitled “Lois Mailou Jones: a life in color”, it is available through Xlibris and museum stores.

Lois Mailou Jones - The Lovers 

Lois Mailou Jones, The Lovers

In 1996, Jones' paintings were featured in an exhibition entitled "Paris, the City of Light" that appeared at several museums throughout the country including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Studio Museum of Harlem.  The exhibition also featured the works of Barbara Chase-RiboudEdward ClarkHarold CousinsBeauford DelaneyHerbert Gentry, and Larry Potter.  The exhibition examined the importance of Paris as an artistic mecca for African-American artists during the 20 years that followed World War II.  From November 14, 2009 to February 29, 2010, a retrospective exhibit of her work entitled “Lois Mailou Jones: a life in vibrant color” was held at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, N.C.  The traveling exhibit included 70 paintings showcasing her various styles and experiences: America, France, Haiti, and Africa.


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Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden 

Romare Bearden

The Negro artists must not be content with merely recording a scene as a machine.  He must enter wholeheartedly into the situation he wishes to convey.

--Romare Bearden


Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911 – March 12, 1988) was an African-American artist and writer who worked in several media including cartoonsoils, and collage.  Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. His family moved him to New York City when he was a toddler, and their household soon became a meeting place for major figures of the Harlem Renaissance.  In 1929 he graduated from Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He completed his studies at New York University (NYU), graduating with a degree in science and education in 1935.

On graduating, he started to focus more on his art and less on athletics and took courses in art that led to him being a lead cartoonist and art editor for the Eucleian Society's (a secretive student society at NYU) monthly journal, The Medley.

 Romare Bearden - The Baptism

Romare Bearden, The Baptism

Bearden grew as an artist not by learning how to create new techniques and mediums, but by his life experiences, the different decades in which he created art, and the different events that took place which completely reshaped his vision of art.  He studied under German artist George Grosz at the Art Students League in 1936 and 1937.  At this time his paintings were often of scenes in the American South, and his style was strongly influenced by the Mexican muralists, especially Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.  Shortly thereafter he began the first of his stints as a case worker for the New York Department of Social Services.  During World War II, Bearden joined the United States Army, serving from 1942 until 1945.  He would return to Europe in 1950 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne under the auspices of the GI Bill.

This completely changed his style of art as he started producing abstract representations of what he deemed as human, specifically scenes from the Passion of the Christ.  He had evolved from what Edward Alden Jewell, a reviewer for the New York Times, called a “debilitating focus on Regionalist and ethnic concerns” to what became known as his stylistic approach which participated in the post-war aims of avant-garde American art.  His works were exhibited in Sam Kootz’s gallery until his work was deemed not abstract enough.

During his success in the gallery, however, he produced “Golgotha”, a painting from his series of the “Passion of the Christ”.  “Golgotha” is an abstract representation of the Crucifixion.  

 Romare Bearden - Golgotha

Romare Bearden, Golgotha

The eye of the viewer is drawn to the middle of the image first, where Bearden has rendered Christ’s body.  The body parts are stylized into abstract geometric shapes, yet still too realistic to be concretely abstract.  This work has a feel of early Cubism.  The body is in a central position and yet darkly contrasting with the highlighted crowds.  The crowds of people are on the left and right, and are encapsulated within large spheres of bright colors of purple and indigo.  The background of the painting is depicted in lighter jewel tones dissected with linear black ink.  Bearden used these colors and contrasts because of the abstract influence of the time, but also for their meanings. 

Bearden intended to not focus on Christ but he wanted to emulate rather the emotions and actions of the crowds gathered around the Crucifixion.  He worked hard to “depict myths in an attempt to convey universal human values and reactions”.  According to Bearden himself, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are the greatest expressions of man’s humanism, not because of Christ’s actual existence but the idea of him that lived on through other men. This is why Bearden focuses on Christ’s body first, to portray the idea of the myth, and then highlights the crowd, to show how the idea is passed on to men.

While it may seem as if Bearden was emphasizing the Biblical interpretations of Christ and the Crucifixion, he was actually focusing on the spiritual intent.  He wanted to show ideas of humanism and thought that cannot be seen by the eye, but “must be digested by the mind”.  This is in accordance with the time he produced this image, as other famous artists creating avant-garde abstract representations of historically significant events, such as Motherwell’s commemoration of the Spanish Civil War, Pollock’s investigation of the Northwest Coast Indian art, Rothko’s and Newman’s interpretations of Biblical stories, etc.  Bearden used this form of art to depict humanity during a period of time when he didn’t see humanity in existence through the war. However, Bearden stands out from these other artists in that his works, including “Golgotha”, are a little too realistic for this time, and he was kicked out of Sam Kootz’s gallery.

Bearden turned to music, co-writing the hit song “Sea Breeze”, which was recorded by Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie. It is still considered a jazz classic.  In 1954, at age 42, he married Nanette Bearden, a 27 year old dancer who herself became an artist and critic. The couple eventually created the Bearden Foundation to assist young artists. 

In the late 1950s, Bearden's work became more abstract, using layers of oil paint to produce muted, hidden effects.  In 1956, Bearden began studying with a Chinese calligrapher, whom he credits with introducing him to new ideas about space and composition in painting.  He also spent a lot of time studying famous European paintings he admired, particularly the work of the Dutch artists Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, and Rembrandt.  He began exhibiting again in 1960.  About this time the couple established a second home in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten

His early works suggest the importance of African American’s unity and cooperation.  For instance, “The Visitation” implies the importance of collaboration of black communities by depicting intimacy between two black women who are holding hands together.  However, not only because of the message conveyed, but also Bearden’s vernacular realism represented in the work makes “The Visitation” noteworthy.  Bearden describes two figures in “The Visitation” somewhat realistically but does not fully follow the pure realism by distorting and exaggerating some parts of their body, to “convey an experiential feeling or subjective disposition.”  Bearden’s quotation also demonstrates his supportive view to vernacular realism: “the Negro artists must not be content with merely recording a scene as a machine.  He must enter wholeheartedly into the situation he wishes to convey.”


 Romare Bearden - The Visitation

Romare Bearden, The Visitation

Bearden had struggled with two artistic sides of himself: his background as “a student of literature and of artistic traditions, and being a black human being involves very real experiences, figurative and concrete”, which was at combat with the mid-twentieth century ‘exploration of abstraction’.   His frustration with abstraction won over, as he himself described his paintings’ focus as coming to a plateau.  Bearden then turned to a completely different medium at a very important time for the country.

During the 1960s civil rights movement, Bearden started to experiment again, this time with forms of collage.  After helping to create an artists group in support of civil rights, Bearden's work became more representational and more overtly socially conscious.  He used clippings from magazines, which in and of itself was a new medium as glossy magazines were fairly new at the time.  He used these glossy scraps to incorporate modernity in his works, trying to show how not only were African American rights moving forward, but so was his socially conscious art.  In 1964, he held an exhibition he called Projections, where he introduced his new collage style.  These works were very well received, and these are generally considered to be his best work.

There have been numerous museum shows of Bearden's work since then, including a 1971 show at the Museum of Modern Art entitled “Prevalence of Ritual”, an exhibition of his highly prized prints entitled “A Graphic Odyssey” showing the work of the last fifteen years of his life, and the 2005 National Gallery of Art retrospective entitled “The Art of Romare Bearden”.  In 2011, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery exhibited its second show of the artist's work, “Romare Bearden (1911 - 1988): Collage, A Centennial Celebration”, an intimate grouping of 21 collages produced between 1964 and 1983.

Romare Bearden - The Calabash 

Romare Bearden, The Calabash, collage, 1970, Library of Congress

One of his most famous series, Prevalence of Ritual, concentrated mostly on southern African American life.  He used these collages to show his rejection of the Harmon Foundation’s, the Chicago arts organization, emphasis on the idea that African Americans must reproduce their culture in their art.  Bearden found this to be a burden on African artists, because he saw this idea creating an emphasis on reproducing something that already exists in the world.  He used this new series to speak out against this limitation on Black artists, and to emphasize modern art.

In this series, one of the pieces is entitled “Baptism”.  Bearden was influenced by Francisco Zubaran, and based Baptism on Zubaran’s piece The Virgin Protectress of the Carthusians. Bearden wanted to show how the water that is about to be poured on the subject being baptized is always moving, giving the whole collage a feel and sense of temporal flux.  This is a direct connection with the fact that African Americans’ rights were always changing, and society itself was in a temporal flux at the time he created this image.  Bearden wanted to show how nothing is fixed, and represented this idea throughout the image, not only is the subject being baptized about to have water poured from the top, but the subject is also about to be submerged in water.  Every aspect of the collage is moving and will never be the same more than once, which was congruent with society at the time.

 Romare Bearden - Pittsburgh Memory

Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory

In "The Art of Romare Bearden", Ruth Fine describes his themes as "universal". "A well-read man whose friends were other artists, writers, poets and jazz musicians, Bearden mined their worlds as well as his own for topics to explore.  He took his imagery from both the everyday rituals of African American rural life in the south and urban life in the north, melding those American experiences with his personal experiences and with the themes of classical literature, religion, myth, music and daily human ritual."

A mural by Romare Bearden in the Gateway Center subway station in Pittsburgh is worth $15 million, more than the cash-strapped transit agency expected, raising questions about how it should be cared for once it is removed before the station is demolished. "We did not expect it to be that much," Port Authority of Allegheny County spokeswoman Judi McNeil said. "We don't have the wherewithal to be a caretaker of such a valuable piece." It would cost the agency more than $100,000 a year to insure the 60-foot-by-13-foot tile mural, McNeil said. Bearden was paid $90,000 for the project, titled "Pittsburgh Recollections." It was installed in 1984.

Before his death, Bearden claimed the collage fragments aided him in ushering the past into the present: "When I conjure these memories, they are of the present to me, because after all, the artist is a kind of enchanter in time."  

Romare Bearden - Return of Odysseus 

Romare Bearden, Return of Odysseus

“The Return of Odysseus”, one of his collage works in Art Institute of Chicago, exemplifies Bearden’s effort to actively represent African American rights in a form of collage.  This collage describes one of the scenes in Homer’s novel Odyssey, in which the Odysseus is returning home from his long journey.  When one first sees the collage, the focal point that first captures one’s eyes is the main figure, Odysseus, situated at the middle of the work reaching his hand to his wife.  However, if one takes a closer look at Odysseus, he or she would wonder why Odysseus and his wife, as well as all the other figures in the collage, are depicted as blacks, since according to the original story, Odysseus is a Greek king.  This is one of the ways how Bearden actively involves in his collage works to represent African American rights - by replacing white characters into blacks, he attempts to defeat the rigidness of racial roles and stereotypes and open up the possibilities and potentials of blacks.  In addition, the original novel depicts Odysseus as a strong character who has overcome numerous difficulties, and thus “Bearden may have seen Odysseus as a strong mental model for the African American community, which had endured its own adversities and setbacks.”   Therefore, by describing Odysseus as black, Bearden maximizes the effect of potential black audiences empathizing to Odysseus.

One may wonder why Bearden chose the technique of collage to support Civil Rights Movement and assert African American rights.  The reason he used this technique was because “he felt that art portraying the lives of African American’s did not give full value to the individual.  In doing so he was able to combine abstract art with real images so that people of different cultures could grasp the subject matter of the African American culture: The people. This is why his theme always exemplified people of color.” In addition, collage’s technique of gathering several pieces together to create one assembled work “symbolizes the coming together of tradition and communities.”

Romare Bearden died in New York on March 12, 1988 due to complications from bone cancer.  In their obituary for him, the New York Times called Bearden "one of America's pre-eminent artists" and "the nation's foremost collagist."  Two years after his death, The Romare Bearden Foundation was founded.  This non-profit organization not only serves as Bearden's official Estate, but also helps "to preserve and perpetuate the legacy of this preeminent American artist."  Recently, it has begun developing grant-giving programs aimed at funding and supporting children, young (emerging) artists and scholars. In Charlotte, Romare Bearden has a street named after him, intersecting West Boulevard, on the west side of the city.  On that site, Romare Bearden Drive is surrounded by the West Boulevard Public Library branch and rows of townhouses.

Ground breaking for Romare Bearden Park in Charlotte, took place at 9 am on September 2, 2011.  The park will be created on a 5.2-acre parcel located in Third Ward between Church and Mint Streets and Martin Luther King Boulevard and 4th Street.  At one point in his childhood, the artist lived near the new park at the corner of MLK Boulevard and Graham Street.  The park design is based on work of public artist Norie Sato.  Her concepts were inspired by Bearden’s multimedia collages where he used memory, experience and tradition as the basis of his work.


Published works

Romare Bearden is the author of:

Romare Bearden is the coauthor of:

  • with Harry Henderson,Six Black Masters of American Art, New York:Doubleday, 1972
  • withCarl Holty,The Painter's Mind, Taylor & Francis, 1981
  • with Harry Henderson, ofA History ofAfrican-AmericanArtists. From 1792 to present, New York:Pantheon Books19 

Honors achieved


  • Abstract(painting)
  • The Blues(collage) – 1975,Honolulu Museum of Art
  • The Calabash(collage) - 1970,Library of Congress
  • Carolina Shout(collage) This is eponymous with the musical composition by Bearden family friend, the "dean of jazz pianists" and composer,James P. Johnson. This appears to be more than a coincidence, as the name of Bearden's mother, Bessye (sic), is listed on the letterhead of an organization called, " Friends of James P. Johnson" An audio recording of Carolina Shout, featuringHarry Connick Jr. on piano, is included on the companion CD to theNational Gallery of ArtExhibition, Romare Bearden Revealed, byBranford Marsalis. - TheMint Museum of Art
  • Falling Star(painting)
  • Fisherman(painting)
  • "Jammin' at the Savoy" (painting)
  • The Lantern(painting)
  • Last of the Blue Devils
  • Morning of the Rooster
  • Patchwork Quilt(collage) – 1970,Museum of Modern Art
  • Piano Lesson(painting) –Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • Prevalence of Ritual: Tidings(collage)
  • Recollection Pond(tapestry) – 1974–1990, 7 plus 1 artist’s proof/8 made, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; Port Authority of NY & NJ; York College, City University of New York;The Metropolitan Museum of Art[23]
  • Return of the Prodigal SonAlbright-Knox Art Gallery
  • Rocket to the Moon(collage)
  • She-Ba
  • Showtime(painting)
  • Summertime(collage) – 1967,Saint Louis Art Museum
  • The Woodshed
  • Wrapping it up at the Lafayette
  • The Dove1964

See also



Great African American artists brought to you by Paris-based black painter Ealy Mays




 Witkovsky 1989: 258


  • Brenner, Carla, Hinish, Heidi, and Moore, Barbara. 2003. The Art of Romare Bearden, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
  • Brown, Kevin. Romare Bearden: Artist. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.
  • East End/East Liberty Historical Society. Pittsburgh's East Liberty Valley, Arcadia Publishing, 2008
  • Fine, Ruth, The Art of Romare Bearden, Abrams/National Gallery of Art, 2004.
  • Greene, Carroll, Jr., Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual, Museum of Modern Art, 1971.
  • Romare Bearden Foundation."Romare Bearden Foundation Biography". Retrieved October 4, 2005.
  • Vaughn, William (2000).Encyclopedia of Artists. Oxford University Press, Inc.ISBN0-19-521572-9.
  • Witkovsky, Matthew S. 1989. Experience vs. Theory: Romare Bearden and Abstract Expressionism. Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 23, No. 2, Fiction Issue pp. 257–282.
  • Yenser, Thomas (editor) (1930-1931-1932 Third Edition).Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America. Who's Who in Colored America, Brooklyn, New York.[Provides biography of mother,Bessye J. Bearden]

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Celebration of over 150 years of Black Literary and Artistic development in Paris

Here you will find the works of one of the most prolific African American artists. Based in Paris, France, this selection includes current masterpieces as well retrospectives from a body of over 30 years as an ethnic artist painting in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Your choice of paintings, prints, posters, postcards, puzzles, memorabilia, T-shirts, collectibles, accessories,and more, is only a click away. Read more

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