Romare Bearden (1911-1988), USA

Untitled (The Rectangle in the Works of the Dutch; The Musicians)

, C. 1980

Ink, felt-tip pen on thin vellum

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


About this artwork

Bearden’s text in this sketch, “The rectangle in the works of the Dutch?” refers to his study of Vermeer and other Dutch artists. He wrote, “Because many of the paintings I was doing were of interiors...I began to look again at Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen. I found that, especially with Vermeer and Steen, a lot of the work was controlled, like Mondrian’s, by the use of rectangles over rectangles. I really think the art of painting is the art of putting something over something else.” (National Gallery: 68)

The other sketch on this page is titled “The Musicians.” Music, especially jazz and the Blues, was another life-long passion of Bearden’s. He grew up across the street from Harlem’s legendary Lafayette Theater that, in 1913, was the first major theater to desegregate. For the first time, Blacks were allowed to sit in orchestra seats. Bearden and his family attended concerts and plays there throughout his life. All the celebrated African American musicians played at the Lafayette and many, including Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, were visitors to afternoon gatherings at his mother’s house.

Jazz also inspired the process of his painting and he called it the “energy of life” (National Gallery: 44). He wrote a classic jazz song, designed record covers and counted jazz musicians among his friends.

He said, “The more I played around with visual notions as if I were improvising like a jazz musician, the more I realized what I wanted to do as a painter, and how I wanted to do it... Jazz has shown me the ways of achieving artistic structures… but it also provides me continuing finger-snapping, head-shaking enjoyment...”(National Gallery: 48-50).

Glenda Gilmore. “In Search of Maudell Sleet’s Garden.” Southern Culture, reprinted from Human/Nature, Summer 2021.

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 Art of Romare Bearden: A Resource for Teachers. To accompany the exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington. 2003.

Thomas B. Cole. “Maudell Sleet’s Magic Garden: Romare Bearden.” JAMA. 2014; 311(22): 2256-2257.