Romare Bearden: Artist Portrait

Romare Bearden

Born 1911. Died 1988.
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Romare Bearden Biography

Regarded as one of the most innovative and important African American artists of the 20th century, Romare Bearden is best known for his powerful depictions of the black American experience. While he began his artistic career as a painter, Bearden began creating his most original and visually arresting works at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, with collage as his principal medium. Featuring images of Harlem life infused with memories of the American south, Bearden’s pieces are concerned with archetypal themes of ritual, music and family.

Bearden was born in 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina. His family moved to Harlem in 1914, and their household became a hub for major Harlem Renaissance figures including Duke Ellington and W.E.B. Dubois. Bearden received degrees from New York University and Columbia University and studied art under George Grosz at the Art Students League. After serving as a sergeant in the US Army from 1942–1945, Bearden began painting religious subject matter, exhibiting his series The Passion of the Christ (1945) at the Samuel M. Kootz gallery in New York City to critical acclaim. In 1950, Bearden went to Paris to study philosophy and art history at the Sorbonne on the GI Bill, where he met leading modernists including Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque and Constantin Brâncuși.

As the American Civil Rights movement gained momentum, Bearden began experimenting with the socially-conscious collage work for which he is most famous, and in 1964 he exhibited his groundbreaking Projections series. By the late ‘60s, Bearden was regarded as the preeminent collagist in America, with his work appearing on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines in 1968. Bearden continued to develop his innovative collage techniques up until his death in 1988 of bone cancer.

Toward the end of his life, Bearden was recognized with numerous honors and awards. In 1972, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter hosted a White House reception in his honor. Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1987. Two years after his death, the Romare Bearden Foundation was established to preserve his legacy and support emerging African-American artists. Today, his work is held in the permanent collections of premier institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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