Oil on masonite board, circa 1900. 406x508 mm; 16x20 inches. Inscribed "L. Morris, Philadelphia" in pencil on the frame back. Alexander McCune frame, Philadelphia, with the label on the backing paper.
Provenance: Maurice Victor Russell, New York and Philadelphia; private collection, New York.
This painting was part of Russell's estate, a collection that included artworks given to Russell by Alain Locke, the renowned Howard University professor and philosopher. Part of the same New York literary circle in the late 1940s, Locke became Russell's mentor and confidant.
This striking painting is not only a scarce example of an academic painting of a African-American male nude painted by an African-American artist, but a very scarce example of the painting of Lenwood Morris.
A student at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts with other African-American artists such as Laura Wheeler Waring and Julian Abele in the early 1900s, Lenwood Morris is known by only a handful of works today - including a small gouache and watercolor, Woman with Parasol, 1908, in the Academy's permanent collection. Along with Richard Brown, Morris also built and decorated parts of the set of the 1916 Philadelphia production of W.E.B. Dubois' historical pageant, Star of Ethiopia. His best known painting, the 1915-18 portrait of Alain Locke, is in the collection of the Howard University Art Gallery. Morris later exhibited with the Harmon Foundation in the 1930s. Locke described him as one of the "Negro Modernists," who, because he died relatively early, was a "swallow before the proper spring" and a "painter of what for that time were unusually advanced styles of landscape and strong, high key portrait studies." Powell p. 71.