Archibald J. Motley, Jr. (1891-1981)

Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Between Acts, 1935, oil on canvas, 39.5 x 32 inches, signed and dated lower right

Archibald J. Motley, Jr. was one of a very few artists to study art at an academy when he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago-one of the first art schools in the United States to admit African American art students without overt racial segregation-in 1914,” said David Driskell in the introduction to the book Archibald J. Motley, Jr. by Amy M. Mooney. “Motley all but single-handedly redeemed the portrait of the Negro-as the language of his day had it-from caricatures and racist steroetypes long associated with the portrayal of African Americans.”

Indeed, Motley is considered one of the most important African American artists. In addition to portraits, he’s also known for his depictions of African Americans engaged in a variety of activities such as playing cards, dancing, walking and talking in various street scenes, or picnicing.

In the early 1930s Motley began working with the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Illinois Art Project. During that time he completed several paintings and murals.

Motley’s work has been widely exhibited in the United States and abroad and is in several public and private collections. It should be noted, however, that there aren’t very many works available or recorded as being in existence and as a result they seldom come to market.