The Art of Romare Bearden

February 10th, 2013

Estate of Romare Bearden, courtesy of the Romare Bearden Foundation, New York.


Romare Bearden (1911 – 1988) was one of America’s great artistic innovators, blazing his own trail in a time of turbulent cultural change.  While his work offers an invaluable view of mid-twentieth-century African-American experience, it has also come to occupy a significant place in the wider history of American art and speaks to the universal concerns of artists everywhere.

Born in North Carolina and coming of age in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, Bearden was surrounded from an early age by writers, musicians, artists, and intellectuals who presided over an extraordinary period of creative ferment.  With keen artistic sensitivity, the insight of a philosopher, and the courage of a pioneer, Bearden absorbed images and ideas that he later wove into his colorful, complex, and imaginative art.  His work is infused with the sounds, intervals, and rhythms of jazz and the blues; the majesty and mystery of popular religion and obscure ritual; echoes of European old master painting and African art; and the atmosphere of the places he loved.  The Art of Romare Bearden curator Ruth Fine writes of the artist’s achievement:  “One great legacy of Bearden’s art is its insight that what we share as a global community is equal in both interest and importance to what makes each of us unique.  He did this by embracing themes and practices from diverse times and places and imbuing them with a character and physical presence that is distinctively his own.  In the materiality of his expansive expression, method and message become one.”

The thirty works presented on the Jerry Jazz Musician on line exhibit — published with the cooperation of the National Gallery of Art — include many selections from his half-century of work that reveal the experimental evolution of his collages, but also examples of his paintings in oil and gouache; watercolors and drawings; photographs, monotypes, and edition prints; designs for record album covers, book illustrations, and the ballet; and the artist’s only known sculpture.

Bearden’s probing curiosity and the depth of his humanistic concerns are reflected in the subjects of his art, from quotidian experiences in the northern and southern United States and the Caribbean, to classic biblical and literary
motifs. While reflecting the African-American community into which he was born, the universality of Bearden’s visual concerns offers a complex world-overview, fraught with contradictions and problems yet filled with hope and beauty.

– Earl A. Powell III, Director, National Gallery of Art


To Romare Bearden

Derek Walcott

How you have gotten it! It’s all here, all right.

The lean, long black hand of the night

has swirled the cut throat of the cockerel

of daybreak, and the flecks of its blood splatter

the hills and the sacred ground

where the chalk-circles and the spiked diagrams

are drawin on the Loa’s ground.

Dawn bleeds without a sound.

In all religions sacrifices matter,

but to these rituals we ascribe malign reasons,

and primitive dreams, but as was the lamb

to Isaac, the ram to Abraham, all tribes have laid

on the threshold of heaven, cocks, ewes, horned rams

to the force that has made the fountain of the blood

in which we are born, and the harvest of our mortal seasons,

for a shadow comes towards us all, with its clean blade.


Excerpted from the exhibition catalogue The Art of Romare Bearden, © National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2003

The Family, c. 1941

gouache with ink and graphite on brown paper, 74 x 104.8 cm (29 1/8
x 41 1/4)

Collection of Earle Hyman

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Untitled (He Is Arisen), 1945

watercolor and ink on paper, 30.5 x 22.9 cm (12 x 9); 45.7 x 40.6
cm (18 x 16)

Mr. Keith Lee and Dr. Lori Andochick

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Now the Dove and the Leopard Wrestle, 1946

oil on canvas, 59.7 x 74.3 cm (23 1/2 x 29 1/4)

Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Evening, 9:10, 461 Lenox Avenue, 1964

collage of various papers with paint, ink, and graphite on cardboard,
21.3 x 27.9 cm (8 3/8 x 11)

Van Every/Smith Galleries, Davidson College, Davidson, North

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Train Whistle Blues: I, 1964

collage of various papers on cardboard, 35.6 x 27 cm (14 x 10

Laura Grosch and Herb Jackson

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Pittsburgh Memory, 1964

collage of printed papers with graphite on cardboard, 21.6 x 29.9
cm (8 1/2 x 11 3/4)

Collection of halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, New

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

City of Brass, c. 1965

photostat with paper collage and gouache on wood, 73 x 101.6 cm (28
3/4 x 40)

Collection Fanny Ellison

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Farm Couple, c. 1965

collage of various papers with paint, ink, and graphite on cardboard,
23.2 x 29.9 cm (9 1/8 x 11 3/4)

Anonymous lender

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Three Folk Musicians, 1967

collage of various papers with paint and graphite on canvas, 127.3
x 152.4 cm (50 1/8 x 60)

Anonymous lender

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Sunday Morning Breakfast, 1967

collage of various papers with paint, ink, and graphite on fiberboard,
111.8 x 142.2 cm (44 x 56)

Collection of halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, New

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

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