Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist

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Kids can listen and learn from this audio guide highlighting selected works in Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist.

Archibald J. Motley Jr., _Blues_, 1929. Oil on canvas, 36 x 42 in. (91.4 x 106.7 cm). Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy the Chicago History Museum. © Valerie Gerrard Browne

NARRATOR: Motley called this painting Blues—though the brass instruments weaving in and out of the composition suggest that they were listening to jazz music. In the 1920s, when Motley made this painting, jazz music usually involved a swinging beat, and thrilling improvised solos. Can you see how he’s used those ideas in this painting? He’s alternated between dark areas and light or bright ones, giving the painting a strong visual rhythm that’s kind of like a beat. And every once in a while, certain details pop out, like musical soloists—did you notice the single high-heeled foot in the lower right corner? Motley loved to use dramatic lighting to give his paintings energy. What else does he seem to shine a spotlight on?

Motley made this painting in Paris, where he lived for two years. He enjoyed Paris because it was more racially tolerant than the United States. Here, he was probably painting a real nightclub—one where African Americans, Africans, people from the Caribbean, and white Europeans mixed freely.