Prominent Archibald Motley Painting Donated to Nasher Museum

Duke receives gift of Archibald Motley’s “Hot Rhythm,” a jazz age painting

"Hot Rhythm," a oil painting by Archibald Motley, captures the spirit and people of Chicago's South Side.

An important painting by American modernist Archibald Motley has been donated to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Motley was 70 years old when he painted the oil on canvas, “Hot Rhythm,” in 1961. “Hot Rhythm” explores one of Motley’s favorite subjects, the jazz age. The artist loved to walk the streets of Bronzeville, a once-thriving neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, where he would gather characters and group scenes -- cabarets, street festivals and clubs informed by African American music and culture -- for his paintings.

The gift is from two of the artist’s heirs, Dr. Mara Motley and Valerie Gerrard Browne, in honor of Richard J. Powell, Duke’s John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History, and C.T. Woods-Powell. “Hot Rhythm” will be on view at the Nasher Museum later this month.

“We are extremely proud to accept the gift of this dazzling painting by Archibald Motley, now recognized as one of the preeminent American artists of the 20th century,” said Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. “This acquisition is an endorsement of our program to champion works by artists of African descent, as we have since the museum opened in 2005. We fell in love with ‘Hot Rhythm’ while it was here during the Motley exhibition and now it’s come home. This painting is truly a crown jewel in our collection and a fitting tribute to Rick Powell, who brought well-deserved new attention to a great artist.”

Archibald Motley with a self-portrait painting titled "Self-Portrait (Myself at Work)." Copyright Valerie Gerrard Browne, Chicago Historical Society licensing agent, all rights reserved.

Nearly 580,000 people around the country saw “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist,” the retrospective curated three years ago by Powell. The exhibition opened at the Nasher Museum in January 2014 and traveled to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Chicago Cultural Center and the new Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

“Archibald Motley was a product of the Art Institute of Chicago, and graduated from that renowned school in 1918. He knew all the rules for color, composition, light -- all the things that a good artist knows,” Powell said. “‘Hot Rhythm’ is a good example of how Motley painted in an academically traditional way, but then improvised on that, had fun with it.

“‘Hot Rhythm’ portrays, literally, people of color -- they have pink skins, magenta skins, they have blue, black skins. Motley knows the rules and breaks them to make a major modern artistic statement.”
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The Nasher Museum, at 2001 Campus Drive at Anderson Street on the Duke campus, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays.

Admission (except for ticketed exhibitions) is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and members of the Duke Alumni Association with an ID card, $3 for non-Duke students with identification and free for children 15 and younger. Admission (except for ticketed exhibitions) is free to all on Thursday nights. Admission is free to Duke students, faculty and staff with a Duke ID, and to Nasher Museum members.