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Harlem Renaissance: Artists

A guide to the literature, art and music of the cultural period.


Palmer Hayden (American, 1890-1973), Nous Quatre a Paris (We Four in Paris), no date, watercolor on paper, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 Visual artists played a key role in creating depictions of the New Negro. Alongside thier counterparts in literature, music and theater, painters exhibited bold, stylized portraits of African Americans during this period, as well as scenes of black life from a variety of perspectives. ~ paraphrased from Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African American Experience,

Aaron Douglas 1899-1979

Aaron Douglas Betsy Graves Reyneau
Oil on canvas, 1953
National Portrait Gallery

Aaron Douglas was an African American painter and a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

In the film Hidden Heritage: The Roots of Black American Painting, David C. Driskell—an artist and a leading educator and scholar of African American art—discussed Aaron Douglas's role in art history: "Douglas is the leading painter of the [Harlem] Renaissance movement. A pioneering Africanist, he accepted the legacy of the ancestral arts of Africa and developed his own original style, geometric symbolism. At a time when it was unpopular to dignify the black image in white America, Douglas refused to compromise and see blacks as anything less than a proud and majestic people."

Best represented by black-and-white drawings with black silhouetted figures, as well as by portraits, landscapes, and murals, Douglas's art fused modernism with ancestral African images, including fetish motifs, masks, and artifacts. His work celebrates African American versatility and adaptability, depicting people in a variety of settings—from rural and urban scenes to churches to nightclubs. ~ from Wikipedia

Library Resources

Romare Bearden 1911-1988

photo from Google images

Romare Bearden was an African-American artist and writer. He worked in several media including cartoons, oils, and collage. ~ from Wikipedia

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, his family joined the Great Migration of southern blacks to points north and west. Like many southern black families, the Beardens settled in the Harlem section of New York City. Romare would call New York home for the rest of his life. ~ from National Gallery of Art

Palmer Hayden 1890-1973

photo from Google images

Palmer C. Hayden was an American painter who depicted African American life. He painted in both oils and watercolors, and was a prolific artist of his era. Much of Hayden's influences came from the environment around him. He enjoyed painting, and used his time in Paris for inspiration.

After Paris, Hayden's work focused on the African American experience. He tried to capture rural life as well as urban backgrounds in New York City. Many of these urban paintings were centered in Harlem. ~ from Wikipedia

The Artists

Cafe by Johnson; Google images

A list of some of the other notable artists during this time period.

  • James Van Der Zee
  • Sargent Claude Johnson
  • Archibald J. Motley
  • Augusta Savage
  • Hale Woodruff
  • James Lescesne

Laura Wheeler Waring 1887-1948

photo from Google images

Laura Wheeler Waring (May 16, 1887 – February 3, 1948) was an African American artist and educator, best known for her paintings of prominent African Americans produced during the Harlem Renaissance. ~ from Wikipedia

Richmond Barthe 1901-1989

photo from Google images

James Richmond Barthé (January 28, 1901 – March 5, 1989) was an African American sculptor known for his many public works, including the Toussaint L’Ouverture Monument in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and a sculpture of Rose McClendon for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House.

In 1928, Barthé spent several months in New York, established a studio in Harlem, and eventually moved to NYC permanently in 1930. During the next two decades, he built his reputation as a sculptor. He is associated with the Harlem Renaissance. He won a Guggenheim fellowship twice and other awards. By 1934, his reputation was so well established that he was awarded his first solo show at the Caz Delbo Galleries in New York City. Barthé experienced success after success and was considered by writers and critics as one of the leading “moderns” of his time. ~ from Wikipedia