III

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Charles White

Awaiting His Return, 1945

Lithograph

16.25" x 12.75"


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Awaiting His Return


The highly stylized figure of a woman anxiously awaiting the return of her loved one from military service during World War II is a gripping portrait of the pain and suffering experienced by the friends, relatives, and lovers of the men who fought for their country. According to Bearden's and Henderson's 1993 A History of African-American Artists, the partially concealed star in the background of White's anonymous portrait serves as a "reminder that there were African-American Gold Star mothers and wives in World War II."

The interesting combination of stylized symbolic imagery, anonymous figures, and black and white tones within Awaiting His Return represents an important shift in White's work. During the late 1930s and early 1940s White was primarily considered a historical painter who specialized in murals. However, in 1942, upon the advice of leading Art Student League instructor Harry Sternberg, White began to shift his style from monumental historical themes strongly influenced by the Mexican muralist movement to more individualized and humanistic portraits of everyday people in contemporary situations. Sternberg not only influenced White to pay more attention to the human figure but also stimulated his interest in the art of precision draftsmanship. White believed that his shift from painting to drawing evolved naturally in his career. He attributed his love of black and white to his interest in the work of German artist Käthe Kollwitz, the relative ease of lithographic reproduction, and the fact that he loved to draw.   T. F.

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