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A Jazz Age Modernist

An important painting by American modernist Archibald Motley has been donated to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Motley was 70 years old when he painted the oil on canvas, Hot Rhythm, in 1961. This painting explores one of Motley’s favorite subjects, the jazz age. The artist loved to walk the streets of Bronzeville, a once-thriving neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, where he would gather characters and group scenes – cabarets, street festivals and clubs informed by African American music and culture – for his paintings.

The gift is from two of the artist’s heirs, Dr. Mara Motley and Valerie Gerrard Browne, in honor of Richard J. Powell, Duke’s John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History, and C.T. Woods-Powell. Hot Rhythm, pictured in full above, is currently on view at the Nasher Museum within The Art of the United States Gallery within The Collection Galleries.

“We are extremely proud to accept the gift of this dazzling painting by Archibald Motley, now recognized as one of the preeminent American artists of the 20th century,” said Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. “This acquisition is an endorsement of our program to champion works by artists of African descent, as we have since the museum opened in 2005. We fell in love with ‘Hot Rhythm’ while it was here during the Motley exhibition and now it’s come home. This painting is truly a crown jewel in our collection and a fitting tribute to Rick Powell, who brought well-deserved new attention to a great artist.”

Nearly 580,000 people around the country saw Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, the retrospective curated three years ago by Powell. The exhibition opened at the Nasher Museum in January 2014 and traveled to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Chicago Cultural Center and the new Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

“Archibald Motley was a product of the Art Institute of Chicago, and graduated from that renowned school in 1918. He knew all the rules for color, composition, light – all the things that a good artist knows,” Powell said. “Hot Rhythm is a good example of how Motley painted in an academically traditional way, but then improvised on that, had fun with it.

Hot Rhythm portrays, literally, people of color – they have pink skins, magenta skins, they have blue, black skins. Motley knows the rules and breaks them to make a major modern artistic statement.”

IMAGE: Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Hot Rhythm, 1961. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mara Motley, M.D., and Valerie Gerrard Browne in honor of Professor Richard J. Powell and C.T. Woods-Powell and in memory of Archie Motley. © Nasher Museum.

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