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., Cocktails, 1926

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DAVARIAN BALDWIN: Motley loves to play, it seems to me, with expressing class, or status, or difference through curios, through a display of art pieces within the art piece.

NARRATOR: Davarian Baldwin discusses Cocktails.

DAVARIAN BALDWIN: Ways of expressing black distinction here play out with the obvious display of a black butler, but on the back wall, you have a portrait which requires a certain kind of social status to be able to have a portrait done of yourself or of someone in your family. Then, of course, in the middle, we have these lovely society women lunching or having cocktails in the middle of the day, so clearly the expression here is one of leisure.

NARRATOR: Motley’s paintings often suggest the degree to which Motley, who was raised middle class, identified with his subjects—or set himself apart from them.

DAVARIAN BALDWIN: This one is not panoramic like some of his other street scenes. This is more of an inside view, a kind of an interior take on the domicile, so I think that even in the kind of framing of this piece, he's suggesting that he, or the viewer, should feel comfortable on the inside of this piece in a certain kind of way.

DAVARIAN BALDWIN: Motley loves to play, it seems to me, with expressing class, or status, or difference through curios, through a display of art pieces within the art piece.

NARRATOR: Davarian Baldwin discusses Cocktails.

DAVARIAN BALDWIN: Ways of expressing black distinction here play out with the obvious display of a black butler, but on the back wall, you have a portrait which requires a certain kind of social status to be able to have a portrait done of yourself or of someone in your family. Then, of course, in the middle, we have these lovely society women lunching or having cocktails in the middle of the day, so clearly the expression here is one of leisure.

NARRATOR: Motley’s paintings often suggest the degree to which Motley, who was raised middle class, identified with his subjects—or set himself apart from them.

DAVARIAN BALDWIN: This one is not panoramic like some of his other street scenes. This is more of an inside view, a kind of an interior take on the domicile, so I think that even in the kind of framing of this piece, he's suggesting that he, or the viewer, should feel comfortable on the inside of this piece in a certain kind of way.


Archibald J. Motley Jr., _Cocktails_, c. 1926. Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 in. (81.3 x 101.6 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The John Axelrod Collection-Frank B. Bemis Fund, Charles H. Bayley Fund, and The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection. Digital image © 2014 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts. © Valerie Gerrard Browne