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collections > permanent collection > prints > ROMARE BEARDEN

Romare Bearden
(American, 1911-1988)
Jamming at the Savoy, 1979
Etching and aquatint, 16 ¼” x 23 ¼”
1987 Collectors Club Purchase (87.012)

Romare Bearden is perhaps best known for collage and collage-like compositions that depict his experiences as an African-American in the mid-twentieth century.  Like others who became prominent during the era of civil rights, Bearden was a champion of social justice, yet his art typically avoids charged themes and pointed messages.  Remembered events and community interaction comprise the subject matter of much of Bearden’s work, including his etching and aquatint, Jamming at the Savoy.  Depicting jazz musicians performing in Harlem’s famous Savoy Ballroom (closed in 1958), Jamming at the Savoy celebrates not only the power and originality of African-American music, but also the good times had at this legendary venue.

Born in 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden attended schools in New York City, including New York University, where he studied mathematics.  Introduced to European modernism through George Grosz at the Art Students League of New York, Bearden turned to painting and began exhibiting his work in Harlem.  His proficient handling of modern style enabled him to transcend the label of “negro artist,” and after World War II, Bearden’s career accelerated.  By the 1960s, when he emerged as a spokesman for African-American artists, Bearden had shown his work in galleries and museums on both sides of the Atlantic.  During the last two decades of his life, Bearden’s reputation steadily increased.  One-person exhibitions and other honors culminated in 1987, the year before the artist’s death, when President Ronald Reagan awarded Bearden the National Medal of the Arts for his contribution to American art.