Charles Henry Alston

The Family

Not on view



Oil on canvas

Overall: 48 3/16 × 35 13/16in. (122.4 × 91 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Artists and Students Assistance Fund

Rights and reproductions
© artist or artist’s estate


Visual Description

The Family is an oil painting on a medium-sized rectangular canvas, measuring around 48 by 35 inches, and was made in 1955. The work features four family members, two adults and two children, posing all together. The family members are closely framed by pale paneled walls to their left and right. The tightness of the composition, proximity of each family member to one another, and framing of the family through their home's wall suggests that they are in a small space with low ceilings.While the work is figurative and can be recognized as a family portrait, the painterly style is defined by fragmented, geometric blocks of color.

Moving clockwise from the upper left corner, the father sits statuesque in a tall-backed chair. To the right sits the mother, who wears a blue dress. She is seated in a three-quarters angle and her face is framed by a vertical window in the background. Her blue dress marks a focal point in the composition as the rest of the painting is defined primarily by warm tones of cream, mustard yellow, and umber.In the lower left corner, two two small daughters stand, one with her back turned to us. This child’s hair is in two braids, and her sister appears to gaze towards her mother. The sister wears a striped shirt or dress whose horizontal stripes mimic the fingers of the father’s hand, which rests on her shoulder.

Charles Henry Alston painted each member of this family’s skin in warm, dark hues,  signaling that this is an African American family. Each figure's facial features are defined only by subtle, thin lines that carve out each person's eyes, nose, and mouth. The geometric quality of their faces and lack of detail in their features does not provide the viewer with a life-like image of each member of the family. Instead, each face has a mask-like quality that references modernist, cubist portraits of the early to mid-twentieth century.