Among 20th-century artists, painter Archibald John Motley, Jr. (1891-1981), is surely one of the most important and also one of the most enigmatic. Motley’s brilliant yet idiosyncratic paintings have captured worldwide attention, attracting museum and gallery goers from London to Los Angeles with their rainbow-hued, syncopated compositions. His works especially provide audiences past and present with a view of African American cultural expression during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, the first retrospective of Archibald Motley’s paintings in two decades, originated at the Nasher Museum before embarking on a national tour. Despite the broad appeal of his paintings, Motley has been one of the least visible 20th-century artists. Many of his most important portraits and cultural scenes remain in private collections; few museums have had the opportunity to acquire his work. With a survey spanning 40 years, Archibald Motley has introduced his canvases of riotous color to wider audiences and revealed his continued impact on art history.
The exhibition includes 42 works from each period of Motley’s lifelong career, from 1919 to 1960. Motley’s scenes of life in the African-American community, often in his native Chicago, depict a parallel universe of labor and leisure. His portraits are voyeuristic, but also examinations of race, gender and sexuality. The exhibition also features his noteworthy canvases of Jazz Age Paris and 1950s Mexico, as well as works that address slavery and racism. These significant works are on view together for the first time.
The exhibition was organized by Richard J. Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History and Dean of Humanities at Duke. Archibald Motley has traveled to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show will move on to the Chicago Cultural Center and conclude its tour at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (October 2, 2015 – January 17, 2016).
Listen to the voice of Valerie Gerrard Browne, daughter-in-law of artist Archibald Motley, who talks about Portrait of My Grandmother.
FROM TOP: Motley’s signature is distinctive. Archibald J. Motley Jr., Self-Portrait (Myself at Work) (detail), 1933. Oil on canvas, 57.125 x 45.25 inches (145.1 x 114.9 cm). Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne. Portrait of the artist Archibald J. Motley Jr. (verso signed: “To Mamma, 12/29/52, Archibald”), c. 1952. Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Richard J. Powell leads a tour of the exhibition. Photo by J Caldwell.
LEFT TO RIGHT: Museum Director Sarah Schroth leads student journalists on a special press tour of the exhibition. Exhibition supporters and Brummer Society members gather to celebrate the opening of Archibald Motley. Courtney Reid-Eaton, curator at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, contemplates Motley’s 1934 oil on canvas, Barbecue. Photos by J Caldwell.
BELOW: Archibald J. Motley Jr., Hot Rhythm (detail), 1961. Oil on canvas, 40 x 48.375 inches (101.6 x 122.9 cm). Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.