Romare Bearden (1911-1988), USA

Untitled (The Man with the Guitar; The Urban Life)

, C. 1980

Ink, felt-tip pen on thin vellum

11 1/2 x 8 in. (29.2 x 20.3 cm)


“The Man with the Guitar!”

Bearden grew up listening to the Blues in North Carolina and New York and his work shows people playing and listening to music. He wrote, “The Blues let you feel good by feeling bad…you go through these terrible experiences, you come out feeling good. That’s what the Blues say and that’s what I believe—life will prevail.”

Jody Blake, who wrote about Bearden and the other African American artists who protested the racism of the US Committee for the Festival in Dakar in 1966, said that Senghor would have especially appreciated Bearden’s work because it proved that the rhythms of the Blues originated in Africa.

“The urban life ...” (The end of the phrase is not legible)

Bearden wrote that one could learn about African Americans from seeing all the life on the streets, people sitting on front stoops and talking on street corners. He wrote that even when they were inside, you could see how they lived through the open windows.

This drawing reflects themes from a major work by Bearden called “The Block,” (1971), which is now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The mural-sized collage, composed of six panels, shows a busy Harlem street with its barber shop, apartment buildings, grocery store, and clusters of people gathered along the sidewalk.

Bearden knew Harlem intimately having grown up there and spending much of his adult life there. His first studio was on 125th St., in the same building as the artist Jacob Lawrence. He also worked there for several years as a social worker, a job perhaps inspired by George Grosz, who had been his teacher at the Art Students League.

Jody Blake. “Cold War Diplomacy and Civil Rights Activism at the First World Festival of Negro Arts.” Studies in the History of Art 71 (2011): 43–58.

“The Block, 1971.” Romare Bearden. The MET. Accessed May 3, 2023.

National Gallery of Art, Washington. Romare Bearden: A Resource for Teachers. For the exhibition that took place at National Gallery of Art, Washington, September 14, 2003 – January 4, 2004. Accessed May 3, 2023.

“Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.” Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery, Columbia University. Exhibition November 15, 2014 – March 14, 2015.

“The Return of Odysseus (Homage to Pinturicchio and Benin), 1977”. Romare Bearden. Art Institute Chicago. Accessed May 3, 2023.