the negro in african setting by aaron douglas

“The Negro in African Setting” by Aaron Douglas – African Roots

Aaron Douglas, a pioneering figure of the Harlem Renaissance, created the compelling artwork The Negro in African Setting in 1934. This piece, part of his celebrated mural series at Fisk University, exemplifies Douglas’s distinctive style that blends African art influences with modernist aesthetics. Through a dynamic composition of silhouetted figures, geometric shapes, and vibrant hues, Douglas explores themes of African heritage, cultural identity, and the African American experience. The Negro in African Setting not only reflects the historical and cultural context of its time but also serves as a profound statement on the resilience and continuity of African culture amid the diaspora.



Key Takeaways

  • The Negro in African Setting is a 1934 artwork by Aaron Douglas, part of the Aspects of Negro Life series.
  • Douglas’s style combines Art Deco and Synthetic Cubism, focusing on African heritage.
  • His work has had a significant impact on American art history and cultural appreciation.



Aaron Douglas: Historical Context

ArtistAaron Douglas (1899 – 1979)
Date Created1934
GenreHarlem Renaissance
Period/MovementArt Deco, Synthetic Cubism, and the Harlem Renaissance
Dimensions (cm)Dimensions vary; specific dimensions not widely published
Series/VersionsPart of the Aspects of Negro Life series
Where Is It Housed?Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States
What It Is WorthNot publicly auctioned; significant cultural and historical value

Aaron Douglas, a pioneering artist of the Harlem Renaissance, created The Negro in African Setting in 1934. This piece is part of his celebrated series, Aspects of Negro Life. Douglas’s work uniquely combines elements of Art Deco and Synthetic Cubism, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of African Americans. The artist’s distinctive style and themes continue to captivate audiences, making his work an essential part of American art history. The Negro in African Setting highlights the profound connection between African heritage and African-American identity.

historical context of aaron douglasPortrait by Betsy Graves Reyneau; National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Gouache-painted figures and geometric shapes draw the viewer into a visual narrative that resonates with cultural pride and historical significance. The work reflects Douglas’s deep engagement with African culture and its influence on the lives of African Americans. Douglas’s murals and paintings, including The Negro in African Setting, not only represent artistic achievements but also serve as historical documents. They reflect the social and cultural context of the 1930s, a period marked by the Great Depression and the flourishing of African-American art and culture.

His contributions have left a lasting impact, fostering a greater appreciation for African-American artistic expression.


Role in the Harlem Renaissance

Aaron Douglas became a leading artist during the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual and cultural revival for African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. He created murals and illustrations that celebrated African American history and culture. His work featured in many important publications and public spaces, influencing both black and white audiences.

role of aaron douglasBuilding More Stately Mansions – Aaron Douglas; Andrea Wright, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr

Douglas’s unique style combined aspects of Art Deco, Synthetic Cubism, and African motifs. This helped to create a powerful visual language that resonated with other artists and intellectuals. His artwork, such as The Negro in African Setting, reflects his commitment to portraying African American life and history with dignity and pride.



Analyzing The Negro in African Setting

The Negro in African Setting by Aaron Douglas is a significant piece in art history. It showcases African cultural elements through the lens of modern art movements such as Art Deco and Synthetic Cubism, using gouache as the medium.


Subject Matter

The Negro in African Setting is a history painting that presents African heritage and identity. The piece is part of Douglas’s series, Aspects of Negro Life. It portrays African figures and elements, aiming to connect African-American identity with its African roots. The figures are stylized, emphasizing both the cultural history and the social struggles. The use of African motifs and symbols highlights a rich tradition and heritage, reinforcing a sense of pride and continuity among African descendants.


Thematic Exploration

Douglas explores themes of racial identity and cultural pride. The painting reflects the Harlem Renaissance’s goals of celebrating African-American culture and history. By setting the scene in an African context, he draws a direct line from African heritage to contemporary African-American experiences. The artwork also implies a deeper narrative about the African diaspora and the enduring spirit of African people.

It speaks to resilience and the beauty of a lost but unforgotten culture, resonating deeply with the African-American community of his time.


Artistic Style and Techniques

Douglas employs gouache, a medium known for its bright colors and matte finish. The Art Deco influence is evident in the geometric shapes and stylized forms that define the figures and background. Synthetic Cubism also plays a role, as seen in the overlapping planes and fragmented forms, which create a dynamic composition.

artistic style of aaron douglasAspiration by Aaron Douglas; daryl_mitchell, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr

His use of light and shadow, along with the layering of colors, adds depth and complexity to the scene. This approach not only enhances the visual appeal but also reinforces the thematic connections to African art and modernist aesthetics. By blending these techniques, Douglas creates a unique and powerful visual narrative that celebrates African heritage while pushing the boundaries of contemporary art.



Impact and Reception

The Negro in African Setting by Aaron Douglas has had a significant impact on American art and has influenced future generations of artists. This piece, created in 1934, is part of Douglas’s efforts to integrate African themes into mainstream American art while also inspiring countless artists with its unique style and thematic depth.


Integration into American Art

Aaron Douglas’s work, The Negro in African Setting, marked a pivotal moment in art history. At a time when African-American contributions were often overlooked, Douglas’s 1934 painting integrated African themes into the American art scene. Art Deco and Synthetic Cubism, both prevalent in his work, appealed strongly to artists and audiences alike. The Art Institute of Chicago recognized his talent and influence, which helped to cement his place in mainstream art.

By including African motifs and imagery, Douglas broadened the scope of American art.

The painting’s inclusion in galleries and exhibitions showcased the complex beauty of African culture. This artwork became a bridge, linking African heritage with contemporary American aesthetics, ultimately influencing how African-American art was perceived and valued.


Influence on Future Generations

The Negro in African Setting left a lasting impression on future generations of artists. Aaron Douglas’s distinct style, marked by bold lines and vibrant shapes, inspired many emerging artists to explore their cultural heritage. Many African-American artists, influenced by Douglas, began to incorporate African themes and styles into their works. This painting also shaped the narrative around African-American art, encouraging artists to delve deeper into their roots.

influence of aaron douglasInto Bondage – Aaron Douglas; h2kyaks, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr

The Movement during the 1930s and 1940s saw an upsurge in such explorations. Institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago featured works inspired by Douglas, ensuring that his influence remained strong. Numerous contemporary artists continue to cite Douglas as a key influence, demonstrating the enduring impact of The Negro in African Setting.


The Negro in African Setting stands as a testament to Aaron Douglas’s profound impact on the visual narrative of African American history and culture. Through his masterful integration of African motifs and modernist techniques, Douglas created a visual language that powerfully conveyed the dignity, resilience, and richness of African heritage. This artwork not only celebrates the cultural roots of African Americans but also challenges viewers to recognize the enduring legacy of African civilization. As a cornerstone of Douglas’s oeuvre, The Negro in African Setting continues to inspire and educate, affirming the vital role of art in shaping cultural identity and historical consciousness.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Themes Are Explored in Aaron Douglas’ Series, Aspects of Negro Life?

Aaron Douglas’ series, Aspects of Negro Life, delves into significant themes like the history of African Americans, the resilience and strength of Black communities, and the broader quest for equality and justice. Each mural in the series conveys powerful narratives about African American culture and identity.


How Did Aaron Douglas Contribute to the Harlem Renaissance Through His Art?

Aaron Douglas played a crucial role in the Harlem Renaissance by creating art that vividly depicted the African American experience. His work was characterized by a unique style that melded African themes with modernist aesthetics. This combination helped bridge the connection between African roots and contemporary Black life, inspiring many artists of his time.


In What Ways Do Aaron Douglas’ Paintings Convey the Experience of the African American Community?

Aaron Douglas’ paintings convey the African American experience by using bold colors, strong lines, and symbolic imagery. His art reflects the struggles, triumphs, and rich cultural heritage of Black communities. Douglas’ pieces also emphasize the importance of unity and collective identity, portraying scenes that resonate with the spirit and history of African Americans.


Cite this Article

Jordan, Anthony, ““The Negro in African Setting” by Aaron Douglas – African Roots.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. July 10, 2024. URL:

Anthony, J. (2024, 10 July). “The Negro in African Setting” by Aaron Douglas – African Roots. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source.

Anthony, Jordan. ““The Negro in African Setting” by Aaron Douglas – African Roots.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, July 10, 2024.

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