4 Black Artists Whose Works Have Been in Museums

Black artists with works in museums

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, some might say that art is one of the greatest representations of history. Through art, African Americans have depicted their cultural past as well as their hopes for the future. Unfortunately, some of the most monumental art pieces created by African Americans are forced to exist in the shadows of more widely recognized artwork. As of 2018, only 7.6% of artwork featured in American museums was created by Black artists.
Some of these artists, however, were determined to make their works more visible. The four artists featured in this article have had their pieces showcased in several museums. Make sure to check out the links to their past and current museum exhibitions.

Norman Lewis

Lewis began drawing in high school and eventually took classes at Columbia University before embarking upon his extensive art career in 1930. His work was inspired by a variety of sources, most notably his deep interest in civil rights, which lead him to becoming an art instructor for the underprivileged. One of Lewis’ most influential paintings is American Totem, an abstract portrayal of a KKK member made from skulls and masks.


Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Whitney Museum

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner knew from the age of 13 that he was going to be a painter. His father did not initially approve of this, and he sent Tanner to work in the milling business. However, Tanner had poor health and became ill as a result of the work. In 1891, however, he was able to study art in Paris and found this to be a much freer experience. Tanner eventually became known for his depictions of religious scenes, including Daniel in the Lions’ Den. His influence continues today, and his works are displayed in museums around the world.


Baltimore Museum of Art
Art Institute Chicago
Hampton University Museum

Augusta Savage

Born in 1892, Augusta Savage was a prodigy sculpture. Despite the hardships she faced—in 1923, her scholarship to a Parisian art school was withdrawn due to her race—Savage’s talent persevered. Her sculptures shone through the racial barriers of the time, and she became something of a pioneer in her artform. One of the most exceptional moments in Savage’s career arrived in 1939, when she was commissioned to create a sculpture for the New York World’s Fair. The result was the breathtaking piece The Harp, which remains critically acclaimed to this day.


Cummer Museum
Palmer Museum of Art

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Fuller, too, was a sculptor, but her talents also extended to painting and writing. Fuller graduated with a degree from the Pennsylvania Museum and School of the Industrial Arts. She continued creating art for years thereafter, but when she married, her husband expected her to take on the role of a housewife. He disapproved of her artistic pursuits, which cast Fuller into depression. However, her passion never left her, and she eventually returned to her art. In the 1950s, Fuller retired from art and directed her attention towards the civil rights movement. One of her most recognized works is her sculpture Ethiopia Awakening.


Birmingham Museum of Art
Danforth Art Museum