Top 25 Harlem Renaissance artists who changed its history

A cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance took place in New York City’s Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. A pivotal period in the history of African-American creativity and expression, this movement was a celebration of African-American art, literature, music, and culture.

Aaron Douglas, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Duke Ellington are a few of the best-known members of the Harlem Renaissance art movement. The rich cultural heritage of African-American communities and the contributions of black artists to American culture were of interest to these artists.

Harlem The use of vivid colours and strong, graphic imagery defined Renaissance painting. It drew inspiration from a variety of sources, such as jazz music, contemporary art movements, including cubism, and African and Expressionist movements.

1. Aaron Douglas

Born: 26 May 1899, Topeka, Kansas, United States

Died: 2 February 1979, Nashville General Hospital, Nashville, Tennessee, United States

Periods: Harlem Renaissance, Social realism

Spouse: Alta Sawyer Douglas (m. 1926–1958)

Education: Topeka High School, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Barnes Foundation, Teachers College, Columbia UniversitY.


2. Jacob Lawrence

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 7 September 1917, Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States

Died: 9 June 2000, Seattle, Washington, United States

Periods: Harlem Renaissance, Modern art, Cubism, Social realism

Series: The Migration of the Negro, In the Heart of the Black Belt

  • Jacob Lawrence, an American painter, was well-known for portraying African-American history and contemporary life.
  • His use of blacks and browns, along with vibrant colors, brought to life the African-American experience.
  • He was also a teacher and spent 16 years at the University of Washington as a professor.
  • Lawrence is one of the most well-known African-American painters of the 20th century.
  • Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 7, 1917. His parents were from the rural south and he was their first child.


3. Augusta Savage

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 29 February 1892, Green Cove Springs, Florida, United States

Died: March 1962, New York, New York, United States

Education: The Cooper Union, Académie de la Grande Chaumiere

  • Augusta Savage, an American sculptor, was associated with Harlem Renaissance.
  • Her studio was an important part of many artists’ careers, who would become national icons.
  • She fought for equal rights in the arts for African Americans.
  • Augusta started making figures when she was a little girl, mainly small animals made from the red clay from her hometown of Green Cove Springs in Florida.


4. Lois Malou Jones

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 3 November 1905, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Died: 9 June 1998, Washington, D.C., United States

Education: Académie Julian, Howard University, School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University

Siblings: John Wesley

  • Lois Mailou Jones was an educator and artist.
  • You can find her work in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collections.
  • She is often associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Jones was the son of Thomas Vreeland (Massachusetts) and Carolyn Jones (Massachusetts).
  • Her father was a building superintendent. She later became a lawyer when she became the first African-American to receive a Suffolk Law School law degree.
  • Jones attended the High School of Practical Arts, Boston, from 1919-1923.


5. James Van Der Zee

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 29 June 1886, Lenox, Massachusetts, United States

Died: 15 May 1983, Howard University Hospital, Washington, D.C., United States

Period: Harlem Renaissance

Spouse: Donna Mussenden (m. 1978–1983), Kate Brown (m. 1907–1914)

  • James Van Der Zee, an American photographer, was best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers.
  • He was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Van Der Zee was born in Lenox, Massachusetts. From an early age, he had a talent for music and wanted to be a professional violinist.
  • When he was a teenager, he bought his first camera and set up a darkroom at his parents’ house.
  • He took hundreds upon hundreds of photos of his family and his hometown of Lenox.


6. Romare Bearden

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 2 September 1911, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States

Died: 12 March 1988, New York, New York, United States

Parents: Richard Howard Bearden, Bessye J. Bearden

  • Romare Bearden was an American author, artist, and songwriter.
  • He used many media, including oils, collages, and cartoons.
  • His artistic career began with scenes from the American South.
  • After his experiences in World War II, he wanted to show humanity in the world.
  • In 1950, he returned to Paris and studied philosophy and art history at the Sorbonne.


7. Archibald Motley

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 7 October 1891, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Died: 16 January 1981, Chicago, Illinois, United States

Spouse: Edith Granzo (m. 1924–1948)

  • Archibald Motley, an American visual artist, was born in 1882.
  • He graduated in 1918 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied painting during the 1910s.
  • The New Negro Movement was a time of renewal and flourishing in the black psyche.
  • His use of color, and apparent fixation on skin-tone, demonstrate his multidimensional portrayal of blackness.
  • Motley was of mixed race and felt confused about his racial identity.
  • His mother was a teacher from the time she was born until her marriage.
  • The family lived in New Orleans until 1894, when they moved to Chicago, where their father was employed as a Pullman car porter.


8. Richard Bruce Nugent

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 2 July 1906, Washington, D.C., United States

Died: 27 May 1987, Hoboken, New Jersey, United States

  • Richard Bruce Nugent (aka Richard Bruce or Bruce Nugent) was a gay writer, painter, and poet in the Harlem Renaissance.
  • After his father’s death, he completed Dunbar High School and moved to New York.
  • His first published work as a writer in 1925 was published.
  • Grace Marr was his wife from 1952 to her death in 1969.
  • Thomas Wirth was a contemporary friend and close personal friend of Richard Nugent. He claimed Grace loved Richard and was determined to change his sexuality.


9. Gwendolyn B. Bennett

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 8 July 1902, Giddings, Texas, United States

Died: 30 May 1981, Reading Hospital – Tower Health, West Reading, Pennsylvania, United States

Spouse: Richard Crosscup (m. 1940–1980)

Notable works: “To a Dark Girl”

  • Gwendolyn Bennett was an American writer, artist, and journalist.
  • Perhaps her most famous work is “Wedding Day,” a short story she wrote. Fire
  • Her literary-acclaimed short novel Poets Evening was one of her contributions to the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Her parents were teachers in the Indian Service for Indian Affairs.


10. Charles Alston

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 28 November 1907, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States

Died: 27 April 1977, New York, New York, United States

Spouse: Myra Adele Logan (m. 1944–1977)

  • Charles Alston was an American artist, sculptor, and illustrator. He also taught mural painting.
  • Alston was involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Alston was also the first African American supervisor for the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration.
  • Charles Henry Alston was conceived on November 28, 1907.
  • He was a prominent minister who also founded St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
  • Anna Alston married Harry Bearden in 1913. Harry Bearden was the brother of Romare Bearden.


11. Richmond Barthé

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 28 January 1901, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, United States

Died: 5 March 1989, Pasadena, California, United States

Education: School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1924–1928), The Art Institute of Chicago

  • Richmond Barthe, an African-American sculptor, was associated with Harlem Renaissance.
  • Barthe is most well-known for his portrayal of black subjects.
  • His artistic focus was to portray the spirituality and diversity of man.
  • Barthe was a keen artist from an early age.
  • His decision to pursue art as a career was influenced in many ways by his mother.


12. Palmer Hayden

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 15 January 1890, Widewater, Virginia, United States

Died: 18 February 1973, Manhattan, New York, United States

Spouse: Miriam Huffman

  • Palmer Hayden, an American painter, depicted African-American life.
  • He was an accomplished artist of his time, drawing and painting in oils and watercolors.
  • His older brother introduced Hayden to the arts. He started drawing at an early age.
  • Unfortunately, many obstacles kept him from achieving this goal, including his mysterious nature, financial instability, and family.
  • Hayden would regret abandoning his original dream despite his immense success as an artist.


13. Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 9 June 1877, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Died: 18 March 1968, Framingham, Massachusetts, United States

Spouse: Solomon Carter Fuller (m. 1909–1953)

Education: Académie Colarossi, The University of the Arts

  • Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, an African-American artist, celebrated Afrocentric themes.
  • She was the first black sculptress at the beginning of the 20th century and was well-known in Paris before she returned to the United States.
  • Meta Vaux Warrick was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 9, 1877.
  • Her father owned several barbershops, and her mother had her beauty salon.


14. Sargent Claude Johnson

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 7 October 1888, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Died: 10 October 1967, San Francisco, California, United States

Artworks: Forever Free, Head of a Negro Woman, Elizabeth Gee, Cubist Bird, #2 Mask

  • Sargent Claude Johnson, an African-American artist who worked in California, was the first to attain a national reputation.
  • His Early Modern and Abstract Figurative styles were well-known.
  • He used various media to create his work, including clay, clay, oil and stone, terracotta, watercolor, wood, and terracotta.
  • Sargent Johnson, the third of six children, was born to a Swedish father and a Cherokee mother.


15. William Henry Johnson

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 18 March 1901, Florence, South Carolina, United States

Died: 13 April 1970, Central Islip, New York, United States

  • William Henry Johnson was an American painter.
  • Later, he lived and worked in France, where he exposed modernism.
  • Johnson was eventually hired as a teacher at Harlem Community Art Center through the Federal Art Project.
  • Johnson’s style developed from realism and expressionism to a strong folk style for which he is most well-known.
  • He was a student at the first Florence public school, the all-black Wilson School located on Athens Street.
  • Johnson arrived in Paris, France, in the autumn of 1927.


16. Elizabeth Catlett

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 15 April 1915, Washington, D.C., United States

Died: 2 April 2012, Cuernavaca, Mexico

Periods: Modern art, Harlem Renaissance

Education: The University of Iowa (1940)

  • Elizabeth Catlett was an African American graphic artist and sculptor.
  • She was born in Washington, D.C., and was raised by parents who were educators.
  • Her work is abstract and figurative and draws inspiration from Mexican and African art traditions.
  • Art students were interested in depicting race, gender, and class issues and heavily studied her work.


17. Norman Lewis

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 23 July 1909, Harlem, New York, United States

Died: 27 August 1979, New York, New York, United States

  • Norman Wilfred Lewis, an American painter and scholar was also a teacher.
  • Lewis, an African-American man of Bermudian descent, was associated with abstract expressionism. He used representational strategies and focused on black urban life and his community’s struggles.
  • Norman Wilfred Lewis was a New York City native born July 23, 1909, in Harlem.
  • He was a Harlem resident for his entire life and has traveled extensively since he was 20 years old.


18. Hale Woodruff

Born: 26 August 1900, Cairo, Illinois, United States

Died: 6 September 1980, New York, New York, United States

  • American artist Hale Aspacio Woodruff is well-known for his murals, paintings, and prints.
  • Woodruff was born on August 26, 1900, in Cairo, Illinois.
  • In 1931, he returned to the U.S. and married Theresa Ada Baker.
  • Woodruff held three solo exhibitions at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in the 1950s.
  • Woodruff was appointed to the faculty of New York University in Manhattan in 1946.


19. Henry Ossawa Tanner

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 21 June 1859, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Died: 25 May 1937, Paris, France

  • Henry Ossawa Tanner, an American artist, was the first African-American painter who received international acclaim.
  • Tanner married Jessie Macauley Olssen on December 14, 1899, in London.
  • The family decided to make France their permanent residence, splitting their time between Paris and Normandy.
  • His parents gave him a middle name to commemorate the Osawatomie struggle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans.
  • He attended Avery College in Pittsburgh and Western Theological Seminary, where he studied literature.


20. Beauford Delaney

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 30 December 1901, Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Died: 26 March 1979, Paris, France

Period: Harlem Renaissance

Siblings: Joseph Delaney

Education: Austin-East High School

  • Beauford Delaney, an American modernist painter, was born in 1886.
  • His work with the Harlem Renaissance during the 1930s and 40s is what is most remembered about him.
  • Delaney’s parents were well-respected and prominent members of Knoxville’s black community.
  • Samuel, his father, was both a barber as well as a Methodist minister.
  • Delia, his mother, was also prominent in the church. She earned a living cleaning house and doing laundry for the wealthy whites.


21. Charles White

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 2 April 1918, Chicago, Illinois, United States

Died: 3 October 1979, Los Angeles, California, United States

Spouse: Frances Barrett White (m. 1950–1979), Elizabeth Catlett (m. 1941–1946)

  • Charles White, an African American artist, was known for portraying African American subjects in drawings, paintings, lithographs, and murals.
  • The Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Modern Art organized the first major retrospective of his work in 2018, his centenary year.
  • Horace Pippin, February 22, 1888 – June 6, 1946, was an American artist who learned by himself.
  • He was raised in Goshen, New York. However, he would later return to West Chester as an adult.


22. Horace Pippin

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 22 February 1888, West Chester, Pennsylvania, United States

Died: 6 July 1946, West Chester, Pennsylvania, United States

Periods: Naïve art, Harlem Renaissance, Social realism

  • Horace Pippin was an American artist who learned by himself.
  • He was the first Black artist to make the monograph.
  • He was raised in Goshen, New York. However, he would later return to West Chester as an adult.


23. Selma Burke

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 31 December 1900, Mooresville, North Carolina, United States

Died: 29 August 1995, New Hope, Pennsylvania, United States

Education: Columbia University

  • Selma Hortense Burch was an American sculptor who was also a member of the Harlem Renaissance movement.
  • Her father died when she turned twelve, and her mother was one hundred and one years old.
  • As a child, she attended a segregated one-room schoolhouse and often played with riverbed clay near her home.
  • Durant Woodward was a childhood friend of hers. However, he died less than one year after their marriage.


24. Laura Wheeler Waring

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 16 May 1887, Hartford, Connecticut, United States

Died: 3 February 1948, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Education: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Hartford Public High School, Académie de la Grande Chaumiere

  • Laura Wheeler Waring, an American artist and educator, was best known for her paintings depicting prominent African Americans she painted during the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Cheyney University, Pennsylvania: She taught art for over 30 years.
  • She comes from a family of five college-educated generations.


25. Malvin Gray Johnson

Harlem Renaissance artists

Born: 28 January 1896, Greensboro, North
Carolina, United States

Died: 4 October 1934, New York, New York,
United States

Books: Climbing Up the Mountain: The Modern Art
of Malvin Gray Johnson

  • Malvin Gray Johnson, an American painter, was born in Greensboro (North Carolina) and raised there.
  • When his sister Maggie saw his talent, Gray Johnson started painting as a child. She gave Gray drawing lessons and art supplies.
  • His talent was evident early on, and he won first prize for his artwork at the annual fair in his hometown.
  • His work is often called Symbolic Abstractionist because he was one of the first African Americans to use Cubist painting techniques.

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