Romare Bearden, African Royalty, ca. 1964
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African Royalty, ca. 1964
Graphite, watercolor ink and paper collage on paper. Hand signed with label verso. Framed
21 × 27 × 1 1/2 inches
Hand signed on the top right corner recto. Also bears information card from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in die-cut window
This majestic early Romare Bearden graphite, watercolor ink, photomontage and paper collage - "African Royalty" - is from the Estate of Alma LeBrecht and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts. (LeBrecht was a longtime drawing instructor at the MFA). The verso of the work bears the original documentation card from the museum noting this is Study No. 1 for a proposed lithograph, and indicates the proposed measurements.
"African Royalty" was created during the same period as Bearden’s celebrated work “Watching the Good Train Go By” – a photomontage – i.e. a collage that includes photographs. According to the National Gallery of Art, “In Watching the Good Train Go By, Bearden used photographs to create cut out pictures of trains, faces, and arms, combined with patterned papers, creating a busy scene. Bearden’s art was influenced by his love for jazz and the blues. Music was often the subject of his work, and it also influenced his way of working. One distinguishing feature of jazz is improvisation...Bearden advised a younger artist to “become a blues singer—only you sing on the canvas. You improvise—you find the rhythm and catch it good, and structure as you go along—then the song is you…”
According to press materials from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, which in 2011 hosted a critically acclaimed exhibition of other Bearden collages, the artist believed that “art is made from other art: ..” This idea is literally present in the act of collage-making—taking images, colors, and forms out of one context, altering them, and juxtaposing them with other pre-existing images, colors, and forms to create something new. But it is equally apparent in Bearden’s celebration of jazz and blues, the inspiration he drew from African art, and his passion for telling the stories and representing the cultures of ordinary black Americans...”
In a 2011 New York Times review of the above show, critic Roberta Smith wrote, “Romare Bearden (1911-88) spent more than 30 years striving to be a great artist, and in the early 1960s, when he took up collage in earnest, he became one. As historical shows go, this one feels unusually of-the-moment. For one thing the improvisational cross-fertilizing of art mediums that Bearden helped pioneer via collage is more and more the norm; for another, paper has probably never been more popular as an art material, for work in both two and three dimensions. .. Bearden took up collage sometime in the late 1950s, after a relatively fallow period during which what little painting he made was mostly abstract. A trip to France and Italy with his wife in 1961, to see many of the museums and churches he had visited 10 years before while studying painting on the G.I. Bill of Rights, may have reconnected him to figuration. In 1963 he helped organize Spiral, a group of African-American artists interested in finding new ways to portray black life in America. Bearden suggested that the group collaborate on collage, an implicitly collaborative medium. This didn’t happen, but evidently he found his métier in the process of demonstrating the possibilities. By then Bearden was in his early 50s, a late bloomer by most standards. But… his collages have a pictorial sophistication, cultural erudition and emotional wisdom that it is hard to imagine in a younger artist. They are full-flavored distillations of the culturally rich, occasionally privileged life Bearden had led up that point: his experience of black life growing up in the South and then in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance; his immersion in jazz and African sculpture; his study at the Art Students League with George Grosz; his stint as a political cartoonist with a Baltimore newspaper (during which he did extensive research on the history of cartooning); his friendships with artists white and black, including Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis and William H. Johnson; his familiarity with the evolution of the New York School painting and its Cubist roots; and his experience, stretching over more than 30 years, of observing urban life up close while supporting himself as a social worker in New York City… But by the late 1960s Bearden was subjecting collage to various mechanical and hands-on manipulations. These included rephotographing (via photostat) and enlarging his own collages for further use, a practice pursued by artists from the outsider Henry Darger (whose work had not yet been rediscovered at the time) to budding appropriationists like Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger, starting in the mid ’70s. “Watching the Good Train Go By,” [later scholarship has documented that work as done in 1964], with its group of colorfully clothed figures, is actually a collage on top of an earlier rephotographed collage. If you look closely, images that appear to be pieced together lack the telltale seams..”
"African Royalty" is elegantly floated and framed with a die-cut back to reveal the museum card with the artists name and information. A rare, highly collectible and impressive Romare Bearden from the mid 1960s.
21" vertical x 27" horizontal
18" vertical x 24" horizontal
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