Prelude to Farewell, 1981
The Studio Museum in Harlem, gift of Altria Group, Inc. 08.13.2
© Romare Bearden Foundation Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Romare Bearden (1911–1988) was a prolific artist, art historian, social worker and cultural commentator. In his long career he created a vast body of artwork, largely defined by his work in collage. Bearden’s collage style is a unique synthesis of Dada photomontage, Cubist structure, southern folk traditions and African art. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden spent his early life moving between Charlotte, New York, Pittsburgh and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. By 1920, the family had settled in Harlem and Bearden spent his life living and working in New York City and St. Maarten.
Bearden produced his earliest work as a cartoonist for university publications at Boston University and New York University. Bearden graduated from NYU in 1935. While he was a student, he enrolled in classes at the Art Students League, studying under German expatriate George Grosz and gaining technical skills and art-historical knowledge. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Bearden began to paint in a semi-abstract style. Between 1945 and 1947, Bearden presented three solo exhibitions in New York. In 1950, under the GI Bill, he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and came into contact with modern European artists such as Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Constantin Brancusi. After returning to the United States, Bearden worked as a professional songwriter and as a caseworker for the New York City Department of Social Services. In the early 1960s, Bearden’s work would take an important turn with his involvement with the Spiral group, a collective of African-American artists who met to explore their role in American art and society. He proposed that they work in collaboration to create a collage. Bearden, a co-founder and leading member of the group, ultimately completed the project as a solo venture. While he experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, he continued to refine his collage work throughout the 1970s and ’80s.
Bearden’s work is in many public collections, including those of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Modern Art. He has had several retrospectives, including The Prevalence of Ritual at The Museum of Modern Art (1971);Romare Bearden: 1970–1980 at the Mint Museum of Art (1980); Romare Bearden: Origins and Progressions at The Detroit Institute of Arts (1986); Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden, 1940–1987 at The Studio Museum in Harlem (1991); The Art of Romare Bearden at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2003); and Conjuring Beardenat the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (2006). Bearden has received numerous awards and honors, including the Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984, and the National Medal of Arts in 1987.
For more information about this iconic artist please visit beardenfoundation.org.