Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist

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This audio guide highlights selected works in Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist. Curators Richard J. Powell, Carter Foster, and others provide additional commentary.

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Brown Girl After the Bath, 1931

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AMY MOONEY: Here we are looking at Archibald Motley's painting Brown Girl After the Bath. We are allowed to look into this woman's bedroom. If you'll notice a curtain has been pulled back and she sits in front of her vanity looking at us looking at her.

NARRATOR: The painting reflects Motley’s deep familiarity with the Renaissance tradition of the nude—but he also tweaks that tradition with the title, Brown Girl after the Bath. Amy Mooney.

AMY MOONEY: He steps across some of those lines by reminding us again that this is a brown girl, an African American woman, a rare subject for fine art at this period and rarely seen in American museums at this point. Motley is interested in working against that canon that was so exclusionary and did not include beautiful depictions such as the one he's created here for us.

What's also really interesting, too, is as much as we are allowed to look at her, we are confronted with her looking back at us. There's no doubt that she is aware of our interest, our scrutiny as such, and she challenges it. She is a participant in this exhibition of herself, is confident in it, and perhaps comfortable even. 

AMY MOONEY: Here we are looking at Archibald Motley's painting Brown Girl After the Bath. We are allowed to look into this woman's bedroom. If you'll notice a curtain has been pulled back and she sits in front of her vanity looking at us looking at her.

NARRATOR: The painting reflects Motley’s deep familiarity with the Renaissance tradition of the nude—but he also tweaks that tradition with the title, Brown Girl after the Bath. Amy Mooney.

AMY MOONEY: He steps across some of those lines by reminding us again that this is a brown girl, an African American woman, a rare subject for fine art at this period and rarely seen in American museums at this point. Motley is interested in working against that canon that was so exclusionary and did not include beautiful depictions such as the one he's created here for us.

What's also really interesting, too, is as much as we are allowed to look at her, we are confronted with her looking back at us. There's no doubt that she is aware of our interest, our scrutiny as such, and she challenges it. She is a participant in this exhibition of herself, is confident in it, and perhaps comfortable even. 


Archibald J. Motley Jr., _Brown Girl After the Bath_, 1931. Oil on canvas, 48 1/4 x 36 in. (122.6 x 91.4 cm). Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; gift of an anonymous donor. Image courtesy the Chicago History Museum. © Valerie Gerrard Browne