not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979)
Zora Neale Hurston, 1926

Both Zora Neale Hurston—best known today for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God—and Douglas were recent arrivals to New York when she sat for this pastel portrait in 1926. Douglas had moved to the city just the previous year, and was quickly finding his footing in the cultural ferment of the Harlem Renaissance, while Hurston had come to New York only a few months prior to begin her studies in anthropology at Barnard College.

In her portrait, Hurston sits in a heavy wooden chair that frames her rather stiff pose. She has kept on her winter coat, elegant fox stole and hat, and clutches her purse in her right hand, all rendered by Douglas in a subtle tonal range of warm pastel browns. However, as captured by the artist, her youthful features—she was then in her mid-thirties, though she claimed to be a decade younger—attest to the dynamism of this writer just entering her creative maturity.

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