Meet the Harlem Renaissance Artist Who Captured the Era of ‘Le Jazz Hot’ | Observer

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Archibald Motley self portrait myself at work

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Self-Portrait (Myself at Work), 1933. (Image courtesy the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois © Valerie Gerrard Browne)

The Whitney Museum of American Art has two big shows right now, on Frank Stella and Archibald Motley. I must confess that I had a lot more fun, and you might, too, at the surprising and rich, almost joyful, “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist,” which is closing this Sunday, January 17.

This isn’t to say that Archibald J. Motley, Jr. (1891-1981) wasn’t a serious artist. Indeed, my first exposure to him — “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” a LACMA exhibition catalog by David C. Driskell from 1976 – was weighty indeed.

Its entry on Motley includes full-page reproductions of two paintings that deserve to be taken seriously. One is Mending Socks (1924), showing the artist’s aged grandmother engaged in humble domestic labor. The other is Brown Girl after the Bath (1931), a depression-era study of a nude seated pensively in front of a mirror, the mirror alluding to Renaissance portrayals of Venus surveying her own charms.

Both are rendered with traditional finesse, and are among the 41 oils painted between 1921 and 1963 that comprise the Whitney’s homage to this African-American painter—one frequently associated with “the Harlem Renaissance” though he never lived in Harlem.

Read more: Meet the Harlem Renaissance Artist Who Captured the Era of ‘Le Jazz Hot’ | | Observer

Archibald J. Motley Holy Rollers

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Tongues (Holy Rollers), 1929. Oil on canvas, 29 1/4 × 36 1/8 in. (74.3 × 91.8 cm). Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy the Chicago History Museum. © Valerie Gerrard Browne

Archibald J. Motley Jr., The First One Hundred Years: He Amongst You Who is Without Sin Shall Cast the First Stone: Forgive Them Father For They Know Not What They Do

Archibald J. Motley Jr., The First One Hundred Years: He Amongst You Who is Without Sin Shall Cast the First Stone: Forgive Them Father For They Know Not What They Do, c. 1963–72. Oil on canvas, 48 7/8 × 40 3/4 in. (124 × 103.5 cm). Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy the Chicago History Museum. © Valerie Gerrard Browne

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