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Detroit Institute of Arts displays four loaned paintings by Aaron Douglas
Aaron Douglas, Portrait of Marian Anderson, 1940.

DETROIT, MICH.- The Detroit Institute of Arts is displaying four works by renowned painter, illustrator, muralist and arts educator Aaron Douglas, who is considered the quintessential visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance. The paintings are on loan from Wilson A. and Deborah F. Copeland of Detroit and Lauren F. C. N'Namdi of Miami, Florida and will be on view for at least a year.

The paintings, on view in one of the the African American art galleries, are: “Portrait of Marian Anderson,” 1940; “Back Yard Garden, 10th Street, Wilmington, Delaware,” 1944; “Study for Haitian Mural, Wilmington, Delaware,” 1942; and “1st study for mural in the home of Dr. W. W. and Mrs. Grace Goens in Hockessin, Delaware,” 1963.

“The opportunity to display these remarkable Douglas paintings for the benefit of our visitors is a result of the museum reaching out to our generous local collectors. They are willing to share their treasures with the public and enrich our life with extraordinary art collected in the city for so many years,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “It is time to discover the hidden gems, tell the Detroit art stories and strengthen our relationship with our collectors.”

“Portrait of Marian Anderson” depicts the celebrated opera singer and civil rights activist, who after being denied the opportunity to sing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall in 1939, went on to perform that same year on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people and an international radio audience of millions. While many photographs and paintings of Anderson portrayed her with a serious demeanor, her expression in Douglas’ painting conveys warmth and friendliness.

In “Back Yard Garden, 10th Street, Wilmington, Delaware,” Douglas adapts an Impressionist style in the manner of Claude Monet, who excelled in painting garden scenes in a modernist style. The two mural studies—"Study for Haitian Mural, Wilmington, Delaware,” and “1st study for mural in the home of Dr. W.W. and Mrs. Grace Goens in Hockessin, Delaware,” reflect Douglas’ breakthrough modernist style resulting from his synthesis of African art, Egyptian design, folk art and European Modernism.

Douglas (1899–1979) was the first black artist to create a distinctive modernist style that connected modern African Americans with their African heritage. After high school, he briefly worked in Detroit as a plasterer for Cadillac while attending free art classes at the Detroit Museum of Art, now the DIA. After earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska, he taught visual arts at Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri.

Prior to leaving for Paris in 1925, where he planned to build his career, Douglas stopped in Harlem, where philosopher Alain Locke and sociologist W. E. B. DuBois, leaders of the Harlem Renaissance (known then as the “New Negro Movement”) encouraged him to stay and contribute to the creative activities there. Douglas’ groundbreaking illustrations for the “The New Negro,” an anthology of the writings of forward thinking African Americans, made him the first African American visual artist to be invited into the Movement. He subsequently became an illustrator for “The Crisis,” the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and “Opportunity,” the publication of the National Urban League, where he illustrated articles about lynching, segregation, theater and jazz.

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