About This Artwork

Archibald John Motley, Jr.
American, 1891–1981

Self-Portrait, c. 1920

Oil on canvas
76.3 x 56 cm (30 1/8 x 22 1/8 in.)
Signed u.l: "A. J. MOTLEY JR."

Through prior acquisitions of Friends of American Art Collection; through prior bequest of Marguerita S. Ritman, 1995.239

© Valerie Gerrard Browne / Chicago History Museum / Bridgeman Images

Chicagoan Archibald Motley attended the School of the Art Institute at a time when many prominent art academies denied entrance to African American students. His affiliation with the school was thus of great significance to him. Around 1920, as a recent graduate, he painted a self-portrait meant to introduce him as a poised young artist, elegantly presenting himself in a dark suit jacket, crisp white shirt, and a dark tie accented by a diamond horseshoe pin. Furthermore, Motley painted this work following race riots in July 1919, which had heightened tensions in Chicago. The violence convinced him that he should use his art to influence perceptions of African Americans in a positive manner. This sophisticated self-portrait is thus an extraordinary declaration of his goals and ambitions.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Chicago Historical Society, The Art of Archibald J. Motley, Jr., October 23, 1991-March 17, 1992; traveled to NY, Studio Museum of Harlem, April 5-June 10, 1992; Atlanta, GA, High Museum/Georgia-Pacific Gallery, June 29-September 25, 1992; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, October 10, 1992-January 3, 1993, cat. 6.

Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, On Process: Studio Themes, January 12-March 4, 2001, checklist (unnumbered).

Art Institute of Chicago, Kraft Center, Faces, Places, Inner Spaces.

Art Institute of Chicago, They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910-1950, March 3-June 3, 2013, cat. 24.

Durham, North Carolina, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, January 30-June 1, 2014; traveled to Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum of Art, June 14-September 7, 2014; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 19, 2014-February 1, 2015; Chicago Cultural Center, March 6-August 31, 2015; Whitney Museum of American Art, Fall 2015-Spring 2016 (Chicago only).

Publication History

Jontyle Theresa Robinson and Wendy Greenhouse, The Art of Archibald J. Motley, Jr., exh. cat. (Chicago Historical Society, 1991), pages? ill.

Art Institute of Chicago Department of Museum Education, Many Faces: Modern Portraits and Identities (1997), cover ill., pp. 24 (ill.), 25, 42 (ill.).

Amy M. Mooney, “Representing Race: Disjunctures in the Work of Archibald J. Motley, Jr.,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 24, 2 (1999), pp. 162-179, fig. 1.

Andrea D. Barnwell and Kirsten P. Buick, “A Portfolio of Works by African American Artists Continuing the Dialogue: A Work in Progress,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 24, 2 (1999), p. 185.

Amy M. Mooney, Archibald J. Motley, Jr. (Pomegranate, 2004), pp. 4-11, pl. 1.

Judith A. Barter et al., "American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago, From World War I to 1955," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2009), cat. 145.

Ownership History

Archibald J. Motley, Jr.; to Mrs. Flossie Motley (artist's sister), Chicago; to Charlotte C. Duplessis (daughter of Flossie Moore), Chicago; [Robert Henry Adams Fine Art], sold to the Art Institute of Chicago.

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