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Harlem Renaissance Art

Harlem Renaissance Art Collage

Started: 1920

Ended: Early 1940s

"I've always been interested in history, but they never taught Negro history in the public schools... I don't see how a history of the United States can be written honestly without including the Negro."

Jacob Lawrence Signature

Summary of Harlem Renaissance Art

The term Harlem Renaissance refers to the prolific flowering of literary, visual, and musical arts within the African American community that emerged around 1920 in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The visual arts were one component of a rich cultural development, including many interdisciplinary collaborations, where artists worked closely with writers, publishers, playwrights, and musicians.

There was no single style that defined the Harlem Renaissance, rather artists found different ways to celebrate African American culture and identity. Often, they combined elements of African art with contemporary themes, creating a link that dignified and expanded the history of the African American experience, countering the derogatory caricatures that dominated popular culture.

Key Ideas

The movement was originally referred to as the "New Negro" movement, referring to Alain LeRoy Locke's The New Negro (1925), an anthology which sought to inspire an African-American culture based in pride and self-dependence.
Their careers hampered by racism in America, many first-generation members of the Harlem Renaissance worked abroad, many of them gathering in Paris before returning to New York to found and support opportunities for young African American artists. This created a second generation of locally-trained artists, who were rooted in Harlem and helped to shift the center of the art world to New York following WWII. Many of these second-generation artists became activists during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
As the Harlem Renaissance overlapped the Great Depression, many of its artists were employed under the government's Works Progress Administration (WPA) program, providing unprecedented support for African-American artists with prominent, large-scale commissions. They created public murals in buildings throughout the neighborhood, including Harlem Hospital and the New York Public Library (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture).
Harlem Renaissance Art Image


For artists of the Harlem Renaissance looking for professional African-American role models, only Henry Ossawa Tanner and Mary Edmonia Lewis had gained international fame and success. Yet, faced with racial discrimination and career limitations in America, both artists spent most of their lives in Europe (Tanner in Paris and Lewis in Rome) where they found a more tolerant cultural and artistic environment in the decades following the American Civil War.

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