Often overlooked in the history of western Modernism, the black female figure was in fact central to the development of modern art. A new book by Denise Murrell Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet to Matisse to Today (2018) reasserts the importance of these women. ‘Shifting modes of depicting the black female figure are foundational to the evolving aesthetics of modern art, and are part of what makes modern art modern’, Murrell argues.
Bazille’s painting marks the first in a lineage of paintings portraying the black Parisian proletariat.
Charles Alston was part of the Harlem Renaissance, the first modernist movement to work in opposition to prevalent racist stereotypes.
In this portrait, William H. Johnson combines poses reminiscent of Old Masters paintings with a expressive folk style.
Matisse worked with the model Madame Elvire Van Hyfte in at least four major paintings in his later years.
Romare Bearden approached modernist aesthetics in a way that put African American subject matter at the centre of his practice.
This recent work by New York-based artist Mickalene Thomas is based on popular twentieth-century images of black women in contemporary culture as well as drawing from a rich history of works made by previous generations of artists.