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© 2019, Edouard Duval-Carrié.

National Gallery of Art Welcomes Major Gifts of Haitian Art

alexia - 5 July, 2024


Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art announced today a transformative gift of 15 artworks by modern and contemporary Haitian artists from two important collections: the Kay and Roderick Heller Collection of Franklin, TN, and the Beverly and John Fox Sullivan Collection of Washington, VA. The first works by Haitian artists to enter the National Gallery’s collection, the objects represent a variety of styles, mediums, and subject matter by some of the most celebrated Haitian artists of the 20th century. The Heller and Sullivan collections include work by self-taught artists, such as Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud, Hector Hyppolite, and Louisiane Saint Fleurant, as well as works by two living artists of international renown, Myrlande Constant and Edouard Duval-Carrié.

“Assembled with great care, curiosity, and passion over many decades, the Heller and Sullivan collections demonstrate the remarkable spirit and strength of artistic production across the Republic of Haiti. We are immensely grateful for these generous gifts as they contribute to the National Gallery’s representation of the African Diaspora. The works included in the gift relate meaningfully to our collection of work by African American artists, and enable us to tell significant global, transnational stories,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art.

“To have our 40-year passion for collecting Haitian art validated by the National Gallery brings us such joy and pleasure. Beverly traveled to Haiti more than 25 times over three decades, discovering—often with Kay Heller—the extraordinary vitality of the country and its art. We are delighted to now share these works with thousands of visitors to the National Gallery,” said John Fox Sullivan.

“Since Kay lived in Haiti in the 1980s, she has been impressed by the vitality, creativity, and dignity of the Haitian people and their art, and become a committed collector. Sharing our appreciation of Haitian art with Beverly and John Sullivan as well as other friends has been an inspirational and instructive experience. We are so pleased that the uniqueness and significance of these works are being recognized by the National Gallery and presented to a much wider audience,” said Roderick Heller.

The gift provides the National Gallery an opportunity to shed light on Haiti’s cultural and religious traditions, difficult socioeconomic history, and complex geopolitical relationship with the US, which occupied it in 1915. This history also includes artistic connections made with the help of the Julius Rosenwald Fund (created in 1917 by the father of National Gallery founding benefactor Lessing J. Rosenwald). This fund has enabled African Americans, including numerous artists, to study and work in Haiti since the 1930s. Many of them are already represented in the National Gallery’s collection, which includes work by Richmond Barthé, Eldzier Cortor, Lois Mailou Jones, and William Edouard Scott.

Upcoming Exhibition

The works will be on view in an exhibition tentatively entitled Spirit and Strength (September 29, 2024 –March 9, 2025). Organized by Kanitra Fletcher, associate curator of African American and Afro-Diasporic Art, with the assistance of Justin M. Brown, Samuel H. Kress Predoctoral Fellow at the Center, it will offer a survey of art from the past century through the works of some of the most prominent artists to have lived and worked in Haiti. A wide range of subject matter will be represented—portrayals of daily life, religious traditions, popular customs and rituals, as well as portraiture, and history painting.

Most of the featured Haitian artists were associated with the Centre d’Art, an important school, gallery, and cultural institution founded in 1944 in Port-au-Prince by the American artist DeWitt Peters. In an effort to expand the existing scholarship, the exhibition will also present artwork related to the Haitian Indigenist Movement, which preceded the establishment of the Centre d’Art, and works by African American artists who traveled to or were inspired by Haiti. By putting the Haitian artists in dialog with African American artists, the exhibition will foreground the significance of Haitian history and culture in the African Diaspora. African American artists like Scott, Jones, and Jacob Lawrence looked to Haiti as a source of not only artistic but also political inspiration. As the first Black republic, Haiti resonated with many people in the Diaspora.


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