Romare Bearden (American, 19111988)
Watercolor, pen and India ink, and pencil on paper; 19 7/8 x 25 1/2 in. (50.5 x 64.8 cm)
Bequest of Margaret Seligman Lewisohn, in memory of her husband Sam A. Lewisohn, 1954 (54.143.9)
© Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Bearden had recently been discharged from the army when he made a series of watercolors and oils, The Passion of Christ, with elements based on the gospels of Matthew and Mark. Exhibited at the Samuel Kootz Gallery in Bearden's first New York show, the series was highly lauded and secured the artist's reputation. After service in the army, Bearden had returned to his position with the New York City Department of Social Services and, even with success and acceptance as an artist, he kept his "day job" into the mid-sixties.
Golgotha depicts the Crucifixion with Christ's anguished form bisecting the composition dramatically. To both left and right, crowds of onlookers are highlighted, encapsulated within washes of bright magenta and blue. Planes of jewel-tone watercolor are articulated with dynamic, linear detailing in India ink. The black line and intense color call to mind the French artist Georges Rouault (18711958), whose work was shown in a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1945. In fact, Carl Van Vechten had called Bearden "The Negro Rouault."
Bearden made a careful study of work by earlier artists, where he found tremendous inspiration. As a young man, he had been involved with the Harlem Artists Guild and the Harlem Art Workshop. After college, he studied at the Art Students League with George Grosz, whose pedagogy included meticulous analysis of work by old masters. Perhaps it was there that Bearden developed his continuing interest in building on the foundation of past art.