"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, December 27, 2019

Emily Motley

This 1922 portrait of Emily Motley entitled Portrait of My Grandmother by Archibald John Motley Jr. hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Victoria L. Valentine quotes curator Nancy Anderson's discussion of this portrait.
[Curator Nancy Anderson] went on to detail Motley’s family background. Emily Motley was born in the South in 1842. She gained her freedom after the Civil War, married and started a family. Years later, she moved North with her son to Chicago where he worked as a Pullman Porter. His son, the artist, graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1918. Motley desired to make a career painting portraits, but struggled to secure commissions. To make ends meet, he took on odd jobs and worked with his father on the railroad.
Anderson said the canvas on which Motley painted “Portrait of My Grandmother” was cut from a laundry bag that he stole from a train that traveled between Chicago and Detroit called the Wolverine.
According to the curator, Emily Motley was 80 years old when her grandson painted her portrait. She also noted the museum’s commitment to further researching the subject’s life. “We now know the location of the plantation on which Emily Motley served as a house slave and the name of the family that set her free following the Civil War. Going forward we will pursue all the historical leads we can find and learn, I hope, much more about this extraordinary woman,” Anderson said. -- Culture Type, May 11, 2018, Archibald Motley’s Favorite Painting, a Portrait of His Grandmother by Victoria L. Valentine
A, J. Motley Jr.

The Chicago Art Institute has this 1920 self-portrait of Archibald John Motley Jr.

Chicagoan Archibald Motley attended the School of the Art Institute at a time when many prominent art academies denied entrance to African American students. His affiliation with the school was thus of great significance to him. Around 1920, as a recent graduate, he painted a self-portrait meant to introduce him as a poised young artist, elegantly presenting himself in a dark suit jacket, crisp white shirt, and a dark tie accented by a diamond horseshoe pin. Furthermore, Motley painted this work following race riots in July 1919, which had heightened tensions in Chicago. The violence convinced him that he should use his art to influence perceptions of African Americans in a positive manner. This sophisticated self-portrait is thus an extraordinary declaration of his goals and ambitions. -- Chicago Art Institute

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