Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Announces Acquisition of Works by African-American Artists
RICHMOND, VA. – Two major works by African-American artists – one an Abstract Expressionist and the other a Realist – have been added to the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art.
“Post Mortem,” a 1964 oil on canvas measuring 64 by 50-inches by New York City native Norman Lewis (1909-1979), was given by the Fabergé Society of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Lewis is best known for his unwavering commitment to abstract painting from the 1940s through the 1970s, according to Dr Michael Brand, director of the museum.
“Guitarist,” a circa-1959 drawing in charcoal measuring 44 by 38-inches by Chicago-born Charles White (1918-1979), was a gift, in part, of the Fabergé Society. The purchase was augmented by funds from the museum’s National Endowment for the Arts Fund for American Art.
The additions to the permanent collection signal a new initiative at the museum, which this year is highlighting art by African Americans and their contributions to the history of art in the United States.
A show of 12 sculptures by Martin Puryear debuted at the museum on March 6. Organized by the museum for a national tour, it is the first major US museum exhibition of work by Puryear in almost 10 years. It will be on view through May 27.
From July 17 to September 30, the museum will show “Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection,” an exhibition that provides an overview of more than 125 years of art by African Americans. It includes a large selection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and collages form 1870 to 1997.
Norman Lewis was the only African-American artist to be included in the famed Artist’s Sessions at Studio 35 in New York in the 1950s, a period when the Abstract Expressionist movement was being defined. He was also prominent in the Harlem art community.
“Post Mortem” belongs to a Lewis series from the 1960s known as his Civil Right paintings. The paintings were made with varying shades of white strokes on black surfaces and are considered among Lewis’ most important achievements.
Charles White is best known for his lifelong commitment to representing the human figure, especially in rich charcoal drawings. He emphasizes African-American subjects, conveying dignity as a fundamental attitude toward life. His figures are potent and often emotionally charged, spanning the spectrum of states from suffering to joy.
His focus on realism followed a 1947 trip to Mexico with his first wife, Elizabeth Catlett (whose work, like that of Lewis and White, will be included in the “Narratives” exhibition opening at the museum this summer). In Mexico, he was exposed to the social realism of the country’s muralists, especially David Siquieros and Diego Rivera.
Back in Harlem, his extensive contacts with the African-American elite, including W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes, reinforced his commitment to using his art to address ignorance and racial prejudice.
In 1972, White became only the second African-American artist to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design. (Henry Ossawa Tanner had been elected to the group 45 years earlier, in 1927).
Both works are expected to be placed on view this summer. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, is on the Boulevard at Grove Avenue. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. for information, 804/340-1400.