Made in New York


Aaron Douglas. Study for the book God's Trombones by James Weldon Johnson. 1926

Tempera and pencil on board, 17 5/8 × 14" (44.8 × 35.6 cm). Acquired through the generosity of Jack Shear, Agnes Gund, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Alice and Tom Tisch, Marnie Pillsbury, Karole Dill Barkley and Eric J. Barkley, and gift of The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Foundation for the Arts

Curator, Esther Adler: My name is Esther Adler. I'm an Associate Curator in the Drawings and Prints Department here at MoMA. This is a study by Aaron Douglas.

We're looking at a figure who is holding chains. And I think it's important to note that he is holding those chains. There are no shackles. You instead have a figure in this moment of transition, maybe from enslavement into the creator of his own destiny. And so what we're seeing here with these waves of color, these kinds of geometrical forms that really define the strength of the figure, ends up becoming quintessential Douglas in style.

Douglas grows up in the Midwest. And, in 1925, he's encouraged to go to Paris to study and he makes what's supposed to be a brief stop in New York. And he is captivated by the energy there and he ends up staying. He made a tremendous number of illustrations for magazines, for books, accessible to broad swaths of a community. And I think that's why Douglas becomes so broadly known.

He was probably the visual artist most responsible for defining the style that's come to be associated with the Harlem Renaissance period in modern American art, which was an incredible flowering of creative activity in literature, in poetry, in music, in the visual arts, as well, in the Harlem community of New York in the 1920s.

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