Artist Spotlight: Aaron Douglas

  • Artist Spotlight
  • Modern Art

A striking highlight in our Important Summer Fine Art Sale is an oil on canvas painting by key Harlem Renaissance figure, Aaron Douglas. Douglas is widely known for the murals he was commissioned to paint in several high-profile locations.


These locations included several Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Harlem YMCA, and one of his most acclaimed works, Aspects of Negro Life, at the New York Public Library in Harlem. Douglas worked with writers Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois, and had illustrations included in publications like Vanity Fair, the NAACP journal The Crisis, and Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life among others. Douglas developed a distinctive, graphic style that combined the aesthetic exploration of modernism with more traditional African subject matter. He often used bold color and evocative light sources with leafy foliage and human figures in silhouette. These figures are at times depicted in an African village or tribal setting, dancing, holding spears, or traversing a jungle-like landscape.


Aaron Douglas (American, 1899–1979), Untitled, circa 1955, oil on canvas, signed lower left, 22″ x 44″.
Aaron Douglas (American, 1899–1979), Untitled, circa 1955, oil on canvas, signed lower left, 22″ x 44″.
Estimate: $10,000–$20,000

In other instances, figures are shown in American cityscapes, holding industrial tools with skyscrapers looming in the distance, or playing brass instruments in bands. The work in our June sale shows three silhouetted human figures holding spears and chasing five bison-like animals through an abstracted environment that uses the interplay between color and light to mimic an earthly landscape while remaining nonobjective. Douglas’s approach marries the celebratory aspects of Harlem Renaissance figuration with an Orphism-inspired understanding of color theory that creates a composition in which movement and light become as intrinsic to the material as paint and canvas.

In addition to the aforementioned work, we are also pleased to offer abstract sculptures by Claire Falkenstein, a life-size bronze gown by Karen LaMonte, a suite of six bullfighting paintings by LeRoy Neiman, an abstract expressionist oil by Tancredi Parmeggiani, and much more in our Important Summer Fine Art Sale on June 20th.

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