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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Harlem Renaissance Art
Harlem Renaissance Art Collage

Harlem Renaissance Art

Started: 1920

Ended: Early 1940s

Harlem Renaissance Art Timeline


"Mine is a quiet exploration, a quest for new meanings in color, texture and design. Even though I sometimes portray scenes of poor and struggling people, it is a great joy to paint."
Lois Mailou Jones
"...Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black...let's bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let's sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let's do the impossible. Let's create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic."
Aaron Douglas
"I tried to keep my forms very stark and geometric with my main emphasis on the human body. I tried to portray everything not in a realistic but [an] abstract way - simplified and abstract as . . . in the spirituals. In fact I used the starkness of the old spirituals as my model - and at the same time I tried to make my painting modern."
Aaron Douglas
"I wanted to make the camera take what I thought should be there."
James Van Der Zee
"the most brilliant period, perhaps of Egyptian history was the period of the Negro kings."
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
"So why should the Negro painter, the Negro sculptor mimic that which the white man is doing, when he has such an enormous colossal field practically all his own; portraying his people, historically, dramatically, hilariously, but honestly?"
Archibald J. Motley
"My aim is to express in a natural way what I feel, what is in me, both rhythmically and spiritually."
William H. Johnson
"I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work."
Augusta Savage


Augusta SavageAugusta Savage
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Archibald MotleyArchibald Motley
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Aaron DouglasAaron Douglas
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Jacob LawrenceJacob Lawrence
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Beauford DelaneyBeauford Delaney
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"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


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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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino
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