20190821

Emily

The Kenyon Cox piece is finished, I'll update the image in the previous post. The next project will be this glorious painting by Archibald Motley Jr., a work which was just acquired by the National Gallery from the artist's family late last year:


The lady whose portrait this is, Emily Motley, is the artist's grandmother. She was born into slavery in 1842, and freed when she was about 20. Married a Native American who had also been a slave, and they raised a beautiful, successful family. Archibald Motley Jr. graduated from the Art Institute in Chicago in 1918 and struggled to succeed as a painter, so he worked as a porter on the Wolverine, a train from Chicago to Detroit. His father was also a porter on that train, one of the best jobs available to African Americans at that time. Motley could not afford to buy quality art supplies, so he used a canvas laundry bag from the train as a support for this painting. This explains the extraordinary texture, which I'll talk more about as I work. He struggled for a long time to finally become successful as a modernist, totally different style, but his portrait and the other one of his grandmother are his finest work IMO and they were his favorite paintings. She was about 80 when this was painted in 1922, and she lived to be 102.

I highly recommend the supporting material on the NGA website, with videos that really expand on one's understanding of the importance of this work. Curator Nancy Anderson's talk is absolutely wonderful, providing essential context and enlightenment about this work.

The other painting of Emily is the richly symbolic "Mending Socks", 1924, which is in the collection of the Ackland Museum in Chapel Hill NC. I had the opportunity last month to view that work and the curatorial file, which is filled with articles, interviews and documentation relating to both these works. I'll have more to say as my work progresses.