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Charles White

Photograph of the artist Charles White
© The Charles White Archives Inc.
Also known as
Charles Wilbert White
Date of birth
Date of death

Adept in multiple artistic mediums, Charles White created bold, large-scale paintings and drawings that magnified the power of the black figure, communicating universal human themes while also focusing attention on the lives of African Americans and the struggle for equality. At a time when the art world increasingly favored abstraction, White developed a distinctive and labor-intensive approach to art making and remained committed to a representational style that explored social and political themes ranging from the ongoing fight for freedom and equality to the dignity and struggles of labor.

Born and educated in Chicago, White was one of the preeminent artists to emerge during the city’s Black Renaissance of the 1930s and 1940s. As a child, White sketched in the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago and in grade school received an award to attend drawing classes at the museum. As a high school student he earned a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. White received other scholarships that were revoked because of his race, but this early support was critical in White’s path to becoming a professional artist, offering him exhibition opportunities, including the museum’s Twenty-First International Exhibition of Watercolors in 1942.

A 2018 exhibition at the Art Institute was the first major retrospective of White’s work in more than 35 years and showcased the talented and influential artist whose work continues to resonate amid today’s national dialogues about race, work, equality, and history.

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