THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART (NGA) acquired “The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding” (1976), a major painting by Faith Ringgold that makes a powerful political statement about American democracy and racism.

The iconic painting was acquired directly from the collection of the artist with funds gifted by the Glenstone Foundation and NGA’s Patrons’ Permanent Fund. “The Flag is Bleeding” is the first painting by Ringgold to enter the Washington, D.C., museum’s collection. (The holdings also include two prints by Ringgold.) NGA announced the news Oct. 21.


FAITH RINGGOLD, “The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding,” 1967 (oil on canvas, 182.88 x 243.84 cm / 72 x 96 inches). | © Faith Ringgold. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of Glenstone Foundation and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2021.28.1


For more than 60 years, Ringgold has been making art that documents the American narrative, visualizing its most uncomfortable chapters with a focus on matters of race and gender, often invoking the symbolism of the American flag.

An insightful and provocative image, “The Flag is Bleeding” features three people: a Black man in a black turtleneck, a white woman in a cocktail dress, and a white man in a suit. Standing in the middle, the blond-haired woman is linking arms with both men. The American flag is superimposed over the subjects with blood dripping from the red stripes. The Black man holds a knife in one hand and has placed his other hand over his heart, at once putting pressure over a stab wound and, in effect, pledging allegiance to America and its flag. He is fighting for his freedom and humanity. The two white subjects appear unscathed, living the American dream.

“This may well be the most important purchase of a single work of contemporary art since the National Gallery acquired Jackson Pollock’s No. 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) in 1976,” Harry Cooper, senior curator and head of the department of modern and contemporary art, said in a statement.

“We thought of the American flag as our symbol of freedom, but we were losing our freedoms in the 60s. All the blood laying all over the sidewalk. Nothing about it in the papers. I mean silence, like it didn’t happen.”
— Faith Ringgold

AN ARTIST, ACTIVIST, AUTHOR, AND EDUCATOR, Ringgold is 91. Over the course of her career, she’s expressed herself through painting, quilting, sculpture, and printmaking. Her sharp commentary has explored Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement; the 1968 race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; Black pride and the politics of skin color; and women’s rights and the prison industrial complex.

At the same time, she has reflected on her personal experiences—sharing how it felt to be a Black woman in the 1960s and in the decades that followed. Born in Harlem, Ringgold, lives and works in New Jersey, where she continues to practice.

“The Flag is Bleeding” is part of a series called American People that Ringgold began in 1963. The 20 paintings depict diverse subjects—men and women, Black and white—in a variety of scenarios that consider tensions between the races.

Next February, the New Museum is presenting “Faith Ringgold: American People,” the first full retrospective of the artist in New York. More than 60 works will be featured, including “The Flag is Bleeding.” The painting is currently on view in a retrospective of Ringgold at Glenstone Museum, through today, Oct. 24. (Glenstone in Potomac, Md., was founded by Emily and Mitch Rales. Mitch is president of the National Gallery of Art’s board of trustees. Funds from the Glenstone Foundation made the acquisition possible.)

Touring the exhibition in advance of its opening at Glenstone, Ringgold stopped before “The Flag is Bleeding” and explained what the painting is about and what motivated her to make it.

“We thought of the American flag as our symbol of freedom, but we were losing our freedoms in the 60s. All the blood laying all over the sidewalk. Nothing about it in the papers. I mean silence, like it didn’t happen,” she said. “It is very difficult to paint blood because you feel like you are bleeding. The flag was bleeding and it may still be.” CT


WATCH MORE See Faith Ringgold tour her Glenstone retrospective and discuss the works on view, many she is viewing for the first time in decades.

WATCH MORE See Baltimore-based artist Amani Lewis, explore Ringgold’s retrospective at Glenstone. Lewis, who describes Ringgold as “radically Black” was a guide at the Potomac, Md., museum for three years.


FIND MORE The National Gallery of Art has acquired additional works by African Americans artists in 2021, including “Palmer River” (1885) by Edward Mitchell Bannister (c. 1828–1901); “SONG OF SOLOMON 5:16 – BE BEEWORLD: BE B BOY B GIRL…” by Rozeal (formerly known as Iona Rozeal Brown); Joe Minter’s “Unlocked Chain” (1998); “Echoes for Marian” (2014) by Carrie Mae Weems; “What Does It Mean to Matter (Community Autopsy)” (2019), a quilted textile work by Christopher “Myers; “Untitled” (n.d.) and “Untitled (framed half-squares four patch)” (1989/1990), two quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins; and a promised gift, “110th Street Harlem Blues,” 1972 collage by Romare Bearden.


Serpentine Galleries published a catalog to accompany “Faith Ringgold.” Glenstone is producing an expanded version of the catalog, forthcoming in December. “Faith Ringgold: Die” provides the backstory for Faith Ringgold’s fascinating “American People #20: Die” (1967) painting, which was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 2016. “American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s” coincided with her traveling exhibition. “Dancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold’s French Collection and Other Story Quilts” documented an exhibition of the same name and was the first publication devoted to her quilt works. Ringgold’s early activism is documented in Susan E. Cahan’s book, “Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power.” Her work is also featured in two catalogs for a sweeping exhibition documenting the experiences of Black women artists (We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85: “Sourcebook” and “New Perspectives”), and the wide variety of ways African American artists expressed themselves in the 1960s and 70s (“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power”). Ringgold has also authored and illustrated numerous children’s book, including “Tar Beach,” “Harlem Renaissance Party,” and “We Came to America.”


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