The Harlem Paintings: A Brief Introduction
Harlem Renaissance paintings arose from an artistic and social blossoming of African American culture in the early 20th Century. This astounding period of creativity refers to African American paintings, poetry, literature, theater, music, visual arts, and academia. It began in the aftermath of the turmoil of World War I and ended in the mid-1930s.
In this introduction, we have answered the most frequently asked questions about Harlem Renaissance art. Discover what makes this prosperous period of cross-disciplinary artistic and cultural activity so important. Learn the visual characteristics of famous artists of Harlem Renaissance wall art and its social impact.
What was the African American Art Movement of the 1920s?
Many people know about African American arts and culture flourishing in the 1920s. Still, few realize it is the “Harlem Renaissance.” named after Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City. The district became a central creative hub in the 1920s and is synonymous with dance, music, theater, and Modern Wall Art. While this artistic resurgence was not confined to Harlem, it attracted considerable intellectual and creative talent. For this reason, it served as the symbolic capital of African American art during the 1920s.
With roots in the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance grew from the widespread relocations of African Americans in the early 20th century. People generally traveled North and West to escape racism and frequent poverty in the Southern states. An estimated six million black Southerners relocated to urban areas in the North and West of America from 1916 to 1970. Of course, one of the largest metropolitan hubs was New York City.
What are the Characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance Art Movement?
Art from the Harlem Renaissance broke free from moralizing white stereotypes dominating the 19th century. Instead, it redefined the relationship of black Americans with their history and culture, allowing optimism for the African American experience. In terms of visual characteristics, Harlem Renaissance paintings often display flat planes to create bright and colorful paintings, combining elements of African art with contemporary American themes.
There is no single style definition for Harlem Renaissance paintings. However, almost all the painters of this 20th century art movement celebrate African American identity and culture. Their art dignifies Black Americans and counteracts denigrating racial stereotypes of 1920s American society. The Great Depression of 1929 caused an extreme economic downturn in America and most Western Europe. It hampered the development of the Harlem painters, although some artists continued working throughout the 1930s and beyond.
Many found support through the US Government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) scheme, providing financial help to artists with prominent commissions such as public murals.
What is the impact of the Harlem Renaissance Art Movement?
Artists of the Harlem Renaissance had a significant societal and artistic impact in America and worldwide. They asserted their unspoken pride in black identity and black American life. The increasing awareness of racism, discrimination, and social inequality paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Many artists working during this period experienced previously unthinkable artistic freedom.
Artists from The Harlem Renaissance also created significant socioeconomic opportunities for many black artists. It consequently played a crucial role in heightening the pan-African sensibilities of the time—an impact rippled across the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa.
How did art influence the Harlem Renaissance?
Sculptors, printmakers, and printmakers were vital contributors to the new celebration of Afrocentric culture. Some famous Harlem Renaissance artists include Aaron Douglas, often described as the “father of African American Art,” the photographer James Van Der Zee, and painter Jacob Lawrence. However, fine art paintings were not the only influence on the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance is also known for its literary and theatrical creations.
Leading figures included the sociologist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, musicians such as the Jazz king Duke Ellington and legendary entertainer and dancer Josephine Baker. Famous writers included Zora Neale Hurston, Langton Hughes, and Claude McKay. Many of these intellectuals were supported and mentored by the artist Charles Alston and the philosopher Alain Roy Locke.
Who were the key Harlem Renaissance artists?
While many artists were working in this period, here are four well-known Harlem Renaissance artists, all of whom pioneered and transformed African American art.
As a self-taught American artist, Horace Pippin painted various subjects. Many paintings referred to his service in World War One, but he also created portraits, interior scenes, biblical narratives, and landscapes.
Pippin’s best-known works depict America’s complex history of racial segregation and slavery. In some way, almost all his paintings represented the realities of black life in the United States.
Celebrated as one of this era's most influential African American painters, Pippin also created emotionally intense Religious Art and paintings of Christ. The Crucifixion 1943 is the most famous of these creations. Horace Pippin was, in fact, a profoundly religious man, remaining a firm member of his local church throughout his life.
Palmer Hayden was a prolific artist who sketched and painted in watercolors and oil paints. While he initially entertained ambitions of becoming a fiddle player, Hayden later enjoyed significant success in the art world. He joined the US Army as a young man, gaining an education in draftsmanship and map drawing. After leaving the army, Hayden moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. Life was difficult, however, and Hayden worked several jobs (including janitor and postal clerk) to support his burgeoning artistic career.
Works such as Midsummer Night in Harlem 1936 characterize Palmer Hayden’s early output. In a richly colorful scene, Harlem residents of all ages sit on steps, play musical instruments, and talk energetically. Referencing the changing nature of American urban society, a motorcar, church, and rising full moon appear nearby on the left of the composition.
As a leading American illustrator, painter, and art teacher, Aaron Douglas was a defining figure amongst Harlem Renaissance artists. His career progressed primarily through large-scale murals and illustrations. These artworks addressed social issues of race and class using African imagery to celebrate or highlight injustices within black history and culture.
One of his paintings, Into Bondage 1936, shows shadowy figures forcibly marching into the distance. Manacled and shackled, they march through tropical foliage and waves. The hands of drowning figures are visible in the foreground as slave ships sail toward the sun. Aaron Douglas inspired and assisted a subsequent generation of black artists through his work with the Harlem Artists Guild. He also taught art at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, until his retirement in 1966.
Amongst Harlem Renaissance painters, Jacob Lawrence was famed for his portrayals of African American history. Referring to his painting style as “dynamic cubism,” the shapes and colors of Harlem’s vibrant neighborhoods deeply inspired Lawrence. Many Jacob Lawrence paintings juxtaposed muted blacks and browns with vivid primary colors, as seen in works such as The Builders 1947, where blocks of crimson red interrupt the otherwise black, brown, and cream composition. His colorful paintings are some of our most popular paintings.
In terms of history painting, Lawrence created a series of Modernist artworks depicting the life of Harriet Tubman, the famous abolitionist and social activist, in 1940. In these oil paintings, heavily stylized figures rush across a barren landscape. For Lawrence, their energetic movement and vividly colored clothing harked back to the bittersweet joy of emancipation.
Later in life, Lawrence also taught at several academic institutions, including the University of Washington.
Harlem Renaissance Paintings - Art Reproductions On Canvas
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With its unique combination of historical significance, and social activism, Harlem Renaissance colorful wall art makes a great addition to any art-loving home.
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