Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Richmond, VA

804 340-1400


Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Acquires Artworks by African-American Artists


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 Arts.

"Guitarist," a circa-1959 drawing in charcoal measuring 44 by 38 inches by Chicago-born Charles Wilbert 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. (left: Charles White (1918-1979), Guitarist, c. 1959, charcoal and gouache on illustration board 44 x 38 inches, Photo by Katherine Wetzel © 2001 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

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.

Charles White is best known for his lifelong commitment to representing the human figure, especially in rich charcoal drawings. He emphasized 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 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.)

Read more about the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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