Renowned Art
Romare Bearden Gallery     Prints.     Full biography.
Romare Bearden (1914-1988)
Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1914. His family soon moved to Harlem where he founded the "306 Group", a club for Harlem's artists. During the 1940's, his style combined African culture and symbols with a stylized realism. After a stay in Paris, Bearden's work became more abstract, using layers of oil paint to produce muted, hidden effects. During the 1960's civil rights movement, his focus shifted again, to collage, considered his best work.
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The Return of Odysseus (Homage to Pintoricchio and Benin), 1977
Collage on masonite
112 x 142 cm
 
Romare Beadenís collage portrays the climax of The Odyssey, an epic poem by the ancient Greek author known as Homer. The poem tells of King Odysseusís dangerous struggle to return home to the Greek island of Ithaca after the Trojan War. While Odysseus is away, his wife Penelope endures numerous suitors who compete for her affection. To ward them off, she begins to weave a shroud and promises to marry one of the suitors when the garment is completed. Each night, however, she unravels what she has woven during the day. Just as the suitors discover Penelopeís scheme, Odysseus sails home, kills all of the suitors, reunites with Penelope, and rules Ithaca once again.

Depicted in Beardenís collage is the long-awaited moment of Odysseusís return. Penelope sits on the left, reaching out her arms to greet her loyal son, Telemachus, who has brought back his father. Barely visible and disguised as a beggar, Odysseus enters the doorway at the upper right with his right arm raised. Between Penelope and her suitors, who lurk on the right, stands her loom. A little girl by Penelopeís side knits while a cat plays with the yarn. The sails of Odysseusís ship are visible through the window.

In the title of this image, Bearden pays respect not only to ancient Greece, but also to the artistic heritage of Europe and Africa. The composition was inspired by a fresco executed by Italian Renaissance artist Pintoricchio. Here Bearden recast Pintoricchioís figures as black and showed them in profile, in the manner of sculpture from the ancient African kingdom of Benin. At the same time, Bearden's collage technique, consisting of fragments of printed photographs cut from contemporary books and magazines, was influenced by early-20th-century European Cubism. By drawing from multiple artistic and cultural sources, Bearden suggested the universality of Odysseusís story.
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