For Students

New Acquisition: Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden, United States, 1911-1988, Now the Dove and the Leopard Wrestle, 1946, oil on canvas, Transfer from the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, gift of Clarence Wolf, February 1997, 2012/1.225

"The artist has to be something like the whale, swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he needs."

Romare Bearden was a man of great intellectual curiosity and manifold interests. During the Harlem Renaissance of his childhood, Bearden was surrounded by people who fed his intellect and imagination. His friends were other artists, writers, poets, and jazz musicians, including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Ralph Ellison, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Grosz, and Stuart Davis, among others. He took his imagery from their words and ideas as well as everyday life. The painting on display here demonstrates the importance of two other influences: the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca.

This painting was completed at a time when Bearden was inspired by powerful literary sources, including Rabelais, Homer, and Lorca, writers who share themes of violence, suffering, death, and resurrection. A critic of the time described the continuity between the themes of these writers as the struggle against darkness. Now the Dove and the Leopard Wrestle takes its title from a line in Lorca's poem Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias. Bearden met Lorca when he was in the United States from June 1929 to March 1930. He also may have met the bullfighter Ignacio Sanchez Mejias when he visited Lorca in late 1929. These (possible) meetings could be a reason for the artist's selection of this poem. The scene portrayed, however, does not represent a dove or leopard, nor does it portray the death of Mejias in 1934. Rather, the violent attack of the bull on the horse is more of an homage to the "religious mystery" of the bullfight (Lorca's term) that held such a potent attraction for Lorca, Mejias, Picasso, and Bearden. Although the literary link is to Lorca, the stylistic reference—the overlapping, intersecting, flat, and rounded forms contained in Cubist space—is evidence of Bearden's special interest in Picasso.

This important early work by Bearden was given to the University of Michigan's Clements Library by Clarence Wolf, a frequent benefactor to the Clements. Wolf's father, Ben, was a painter and art critic who reviewed Bearden's early exhibitions and acquired this painting directly from Bearden. Ben Wolf felt that Bearden was "one of the most exciting creative artists" to emerge in a long time. The painting was transferred to UMMA this year where it will be an important resource for students, visitors, and scholars.

Pam Reister
Curator for Museum Teaching and Learning

This new acquisition will be on view in the first-floor connector between the Museum's historic wing and the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing from September 8, 2012 through January 6, 2013.