Nasher Museum of Art


Duke University Museum of Art


Durham, NC




Southern Gate: African American Paintings from the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

August 21, 1999 through June 30, 2002

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Seven major paintings by African American artists from the National Museum of American Art are on loan to the Duke University Museum of Art for two years. An exhibition of these twentieth-century masterpieces, entitled Southern Gate: African American Paintings from the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, can be seen in the North Gallery.

The paintings on exhibition at DUMA represent some of the best-known and most intriguing African American artists of the century. The works range in date from 1927 to 1967. The earliest is a portrait by Laura Wheeler Waring (1887-1948), a Philadelphia-based artist. Waring, along with two other artists included in the NMAA loan, Palmer C. Hayden (1893-1973) and William H. Johnson (1901-1970), regularly participated in exhibitions sponsored by the Harmon Foundation, which supported African American visual arts in the 1920s and early 1930s. Hayden's work, A Janitor Who Paints (ca. 1939-40), is one of the artist's most recognizable works and displays another aspect of work life in black Harlem than was popularized by other artists of the Harlem Renaissance. One of the artistic highlights in the NMAA group is William H. Johnson's Sowing, an important oil-on-burlap painting from around 1940-41. Born in South Carolina, Johnson trained and spent much of his career in Europe, although he continued to exhibit in the United States. (left: William H. Johnson, Sowing, ca, 1940, oil on burlap, 38 1/2 x 45 1/4 inches, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1002)

A surrealistic composition by the Chicago artist Eldzier Cortor (1915 - ), Southern Gate, (1942-43) merges southern literary gothicisms with black folk culture; the title of this work has been adapted for the entire exhibition. Harlem Saltimbanques is by Charles Sebree (1914-1985), another painter from Chicago; he graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago and was part of the art scene on the city's South Side before eventually moving to Washington, DC. Design Made at Alrlie Gardens (1967), by the famous North Carolina painter Minnie Evans (1892-1987) shows tile artist's colorful visionary abstractions; although she had been painting her religious visions since the mid-1930s, she did not exhibit her work publicly until l961. Dreams #2 (1965) is by Jacob Lawrence (b. 1917), arguably this century's most renowned African American artist and narrative painter. (right: Jacob Lawrence, Dreams No. 2, 1965, tempera on fiberboard, 35 3/4 x 24 inches, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.95)

Dr. Richard J. Powell, Professor and Chair, Department of Art and Art History, Duke University, and author of Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century, among others, selected the paintings from the National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC, which will be closed while its historic building is undergoing renovation. The extended loan of these seven works from the NMAA has been made possible from a grant from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

The Museum of Art is located on the East Campus of Duke University. Please see the museum's websiite for hours and fees..

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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