Palmer Hayden

Palmer Hayden 

Palmer Hayden

Palmer Hayden, born on November 9, 1890 in Wide Water, Virginia, was a self-trained African-American painter whose work became known during the Harlem Renaissance for his depiction of African American life, painting in both oils and watercolors.   

Hayden was one of the first in America to depict African subjects in his paintings and his paintings conveyed the experiences of black men in the United States, including elements of his own life.   He was a painter of the black American scene who explored material he knew firsthand in a nostalgic style which connected him to the common people, though his work was more stylistically conservative than that of artists who commented more explicitly on social and economic inequities facing the black community.

Hayden studied at the Cooper Union in New York City and also practiced independent studies at Boothbay Art Colony in Maine.  He won the esteemed Harmon Foundation’s first prize and a gold medal in painting at the first Harmon Foundation exhibition of black artists twice: first for a seascape entitled “Schooners” in 1926, then for one of his most famous pieces was made in 1931–32, a still life called “Fetiche et Fleurs”.   This prompted his patrons to support him so he could live and study in France.  Over the next five years in Paris, Hayden worked very hard to capture elements of Parisian society.

 Palmer Hayden - Schooners

Palmer Hayden, Schooners

Much of Hayden's influences came from the environment around him. He enjoyed painting, and used his time in Paris for inspiration.  Over his next five years in Paris, Hayden was very productive, working hard to capture elements of Parisian society.  On his return to America, Hayden began working for the United States government.  He worked for the U.S. Treasury Art Project as well as the Depression-era government-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA).   Much of his work after Paris focused on the African American experience.   Hayden took his inspiration from the environment around him, focusing on the African American experience.  He tried to capture both rural life in the South, as well as urban backgrounds in New York City.  Many of these urban paintings were centered in Harlem.  The inspiration for "The Janitor Who Paints" came from Cloyd Boykin, a friend of Palmer's.  Boykin was also a painter who supported himself through janitorial work. Hayden once said, “I painted it because no one called Cloyd a painter; they called him a janitor.” 

 Palmer Hayden - Fetiche et Fleurs

Palmer Hayden, Fetiche et Fleurs

Palmer Hayden created a painting series on African-American folk hero John Henry.  This series consisted of 12 works and took 10 years to complete.  John Henry was said to be a strong, heroic man who used a hammer to create railroads and tunnel through mountains.  His works were exhibited at the New Jersey State Museum and the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.

Palmer Hayden - The Janitor Who Paints 

Palmer Hayden, The Janitor Who Paints

Palmer Hayden continued to make contributions to the artistic community throughout his whole life until his death on February 18, 1973.



Great African American painters brought to you by Paris-based ethnic artist Ealy Mays



Palmer C. Hayden papers online at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Welcome to Ealy Mays Artworks

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

It is the spectator and not life, that really mirrors art”  The Picture of Dorian Gray …Oscar Wilde

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