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CURRENTLY ON VIEW at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), “Into Bondage” by Aaron Douglas hangs in the rear of a three-room gallery dedicated to “masterworks” acquired from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Depicting a procession of Africans chained and walking toward a pair of distant slave ships, the painting is a landmark acquisition among thousands of works recently announced by the National Gallery. Part of the Evans-Tibbs collection of African American art, Douglas’s 1936 canvas draws on Cubist influences, evokes emotion through its subject matter and achieves depth utilizing a progression of hues.

“[We] decided that it was absolutely critical to acquire the entire Evans-Tibbs Collection of 33 works, along with the related archive of reference materials,” said NGA officials. “There are many excellent works, but among the ‘stars’ is Aaron Douglas’s ‘Into Bondage.'”

Established in 1869, the Corcoran Gallery of Art was Washington, D.C.’s oldest and largest private art museum. After a protracted financial crisis and annual deficits, the Corcoran closed in October 2014. Its dissolution included a court-approved plan for George Washington University to absorb the Corcoran’s school of arts and design and for the National Gallery to assume custody of the Corcoran’s collection of more than 17,000 works of art, along with its curatorial records.

For years, “Into Bondage” was on view at the Corcoran in a main floor gallery just beyond the cafe where examples from the museum’s collection of early American art through the first half of the 20th century were on display. The monumental canvas is one of two surviving works from a series of four murals Douglas created for the Hall of Negro Life at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. The exposition opened in 1936 on Juneteenth.

The monumental canvas is one of two surviving works from a series of four murals Douglas created for the Hall of Negro Life at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas.

To the consternation of some and the delight of others, the painting is now housed less than two miles away from the Corcoran at the National Gallery of Art—a public museum that is arguably the most prestigious in the United States—where its been brought into the permanent collection. The transition is a result of an unprecedented arrangement between two significant museums.

After months of reviewing the Corcoran’s holdings, NGA announced it is bringing 6,430 works into its collection. In a release, the National Gallery said the selection was “based on criteria such as aesthetic considerations, art historical importance, and relevance to the areas in which we collect. The acquisitions range widely, filling gaps and delivering significant depth and breadth.”

VIEW THE FULL LIST of acquisitions here.

 

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HALE WOODRUFF, “Landscape,” 1936 (oil on canvas). National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

The new works are “particularly transformative for its holdings of American art,” with significant additions in contemporary art and photography and works by women artists and African American artists.

The acquisition includes more than 190 works by African American artists, among them, early paintings by Robert S. Duncanson and Joshua Johnson; works by Margaret Burroughs, Robert Colescott, Richard Mayhew and James A. Porter; more than 50 photographs by Gordon Parks; local Washington-area artists such as David Driskell, Sam Gilliam, Lois Mailou Jones, Lou Stovall and Renee Stout; and the Evans-Tibbs Collection, including works by Douglas, Palmer Hayden, Hughie Lee-Smith, Charles Sebree, Henry O. Tanner, Alma Thomas, and Hale Woodruff, among others.

Art dealer Thurlow Tibbs Jr. donated the Evans-Tibbs Collection to the Corcoran in 1996, the year before he died. The holdings began with paintings given to him by his grandmother, Lillian Evans Tibbs, who was an accomplished opera singer. Tibbs expanded the collection, eventually turning his Washington home into a gallery where he hosted a series of important exhibitions.

Also represented among the acquisitions are contemporary artists Iona Rozeal Brown, Glenn Ligon, Whitfield Lovell, Adrian Piper, Lorna Simpson, Hank Willis Thomas and Kara Walker. Works by British/Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare and South African photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa, are also coming into the National Gallery collection.

NGA’s announcement was an initial selection and the museum is continuing its review of the balance of the Corcoran collection. None of the 17,000 works will be sold. Those the NGA decides not to acquire are expected to be distributed to appropriate Washington-area institutions.

Significant acquisitions are being presented in two exhibitions at the National Gallery through May 3. “American Masterworks from the Corcoran, 1815-1940” features 25 works including Douglas’s “Into Bondage.”

“Focus on the Corcoran: Works on Paper, 1860-1990” includes Romare Bearden‘s 1970 watercolor “After the Bath” and “Dat Ol’ Black Magic,” a 1981 textile collage on paper, by Los Angeles-based Betye Saar.

 

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BETYE SAAR, “Dat Ol’ Black Magic,” 1981 (collage). National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

Prior to the acquisitions, NGA’s collection included nearly 500 works by African American artists. Significant works by William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Horice Pippin, Martin Puryear and Bob Thompson, are among its holdings. “Great America,” a major painting that was the centerpiece of the “Kerry James Marshall: In the Tower” exhibition at the National Gallery in 2013, and Ligon’s 1988 painting “Untitled (I Am a Man),” his first using text, are also in the collection.

Last year, the National Gallery finally acquired its first work by Carrie Mae Weems, a 2002 photograph entitled “May Flowers.” It now has three, adding “Not Manet’s Type” (2001) and “Run, Nigger, Run” (1992), from the Corcoran collection.

Both the National Gallery and Corcoran collections contain significant examples of African American art, in terms of both quality and quantity, when compared with other collecting museums. However, as is standard with major American art institutions, the work of African American artists has only been on the agenda in recent decades.

The NGA collection now boasts more than 145,000 items, less than 700 of them by African American artists. Just three percent of the accessioned art is by black artists, which generally reflects of their representation in the Corcoran holdings.

The new Corcoran works—which include 33 African American artists not previously represented in the NGA collection—will greatly enhance NGA’s holdings and grow its collection of works by African American artists by 40 percent. CT

 

RELATED: National Gallery Curators Explain How Corcoran Works Will Enhance Collection

 

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HUGHIE LEE-SMITH, “Reflection,” 1957 (oil on particle board). National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

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IONA ROZEAL BROWN, “afro.died, T.,” 2011 (acrylic, pen, ink, marker and graphite on birch plywood panel). National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (Museum purchase with funds provided by the Women’s Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

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JOSHUA JOHNSON, “Grace Allison McCurdy (Mrs. Hugh McCurdy) and her Daughters, Mary
Jane and Letitia Grace,” c. 1806 (oil on canvas). National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (Museum purchase through the gifts of William Wilson Corcoran, Elizabeth Donner Norment, Francis Biddle, Erich Cohn, Hardinge Scholle and the William A. Clark Fund). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

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ROBERT COLESCOTT, “Auvers-sur-Oise (Crow in the Wheat Field),” 1981 (acrylic on canvas). National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the Women’s Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

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ROMARE BEARDEN, “After the Bath,” 1970 (watercolor, pen and ink, and collage). National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs Jr.). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art