Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Place du Tertre' by Lois Mailou Jones

If you're going to risk some extreme connoisseurship -- looking and looking at the tiniest details in art -- you need to follow Rule 1 of the sport: Empty your bladder first, for concentration's sake. It was on my way out of the bathroom on the second floor of the old wing of the Phillips Collection that I noticed a work I'd never registered before. No wonder: The little painting, "Place du Tertre," looked like a retread of any number of impressionist views of Montmartre, deserving to be tucked away. Then I looked at the wall label, and was surprised to see the name of Lois Mailou Jones, a pioneering professor in the art department at Howard University who became famous for the black themes in her paintings. (She died in Washington in 1998, age 92.)

No blackness in this picture, I noted. Too early, I thought. The picture was made in 1938, when the 33-year-old Jones was in Paris learning modern painting, before she'd come of age as a black artist. I looked one last time, closer, to make sure that reading was correct, and did a double take.

Read the rest of the story here.

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