Romare Bearden (1911-1988), USA

Untitled (The Train; The Black Woman in her Environment!; The Rituals!)

, C. 1980

Ink, felt-tip pen on thin vellum

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


“The Train.”

Trains were a key element in Bearden’s work and one of his best-known works is Watching the Good Trains Go By (1964), at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. His childhood home in Charlotte was close to the train tracks and he talked about the hooting whistles of the trains that made up the rhythm of his early life. He wrote a poem about his grandmother “waving a white apron at passing trains.”

Aside from the romance of trains, trains had a special significance for African Americans of Bearden’s generation. During the Great Migration, trains carried large numbers of people in search of better lives from the South to the big cities up North. Also there were the famous Pullman cars that, at one point, had provided steady employment to a large number of African American men, though low wages and poor work conditions later became a scandal.

“The Black Woman in her Environment.”

The woman is not fully clothed and, in one hand, is holding an object that may be a mop. In The Conjur Woman (1964), at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and in other works showing women, they are often shown doing domestic chores.

"The Rituals! Bathing - Baptism."

In the South, where Bearden spent summers with extended family, he probably would have seen river baptisms. These rituals marked entry into a church and were seen as purification. “The Prevalence of Ritual” was one of Bearden’s major works.

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.