Our cover this month, “The Lantern” (24 in. by 15½ in.) by Romare Bearden, sold for $3,840 at Swann Auction Galleries’ recent African American Fine Art Sale in New York on Feb. 14, 2013. One of the pre-eminent American artists of the 20th century, Bearden began his career depicting scenes of the rural American South, a common theme for African American artists of his time, but an unusual choice nonetheless, as he grew up in New York (though he was born in Charlotte, N.C.).
As Bearden matured and amassed more life experience, working as a social worker in New York and fighting in Europe during World War II, he began to feel the constraints of his chosen subject matter. The popular opinion at the time was that it was the duty of African American artists to represent their culture in their art, since it had been so woefully underrepresented throughout history.
Bearden railed against this sentiment, as his increasing taste for abstraction led him to abhor the idea of simply recreating what already existed in the real world. Instead, he completely changed his style, incorporating mythology and crafting pieces that, while still largely depicting African American subjects (abstractly), were intended to represent human concepts and emotions, rather than a specific scene.