Romare Howard Bearden was born in the South on September 2, 1914, but spent most of his life in New York City. Bearden was an only child.
It was in New York City where Bearden developed an artistic reputation that exceeded expectations of any other modern African American artist. Bearden is best known as a collagist that always reflected his African American heritage and often reflected his southern background.
Bearden’s life and art are marked by exceptional talent that encompassed a broad range of intellectual and scholarly interests. These interests included music, performing arts, history, literature and world art. He was also a celebrated humanist, which was demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists.
Bearden began college at Lincoln University and then transferred to Boston University, where he had been the art director of Beanpot, the student humor magazine. He completed his studies at NYU, graduating with a degree in education.
It was at NYU that Bearden took several art courses and was a lead cartoonist and later the art editor for the monthly journal The Medley. Bearden published several journal covers during his university years and the first of many texts he would later write on social and artistic issues. He also attended the Art Students League in New York, and later, the Sorbonne in Paris.
Romare embarked on his lifelong study of art after joining the Harlem Artists Guild. It was there that he gathered inspiration from Western masters ranging from Duccio, Giotto and de Hooch to Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse, as well as from African art – particularly sculpture, masks and textiles), Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints and Chinese landscape paintings.
Bearden was a social worker with the New York City Department of Social Services from the mid-1930’s through the 1960’s. He would work on his art at night and on the weekends.
His success as an artist was recognized with his first solo exhibition in Harlem in 1940 and in Washington, D.C. in 1944. Bearden’s works were exhibited during his lifetime throughout the U.S. and Europe. His collages, watercolors, oils, photomontages and prints are rich with visual metaphors from his past in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Harlem and from a host of historical, literary and musical sources.
In 1954, Romare Bearden married Nanette Rohan. Romare spent the rest of his life with Nanette. In the 70’s, they established a second residence on the Caribbean Island of St. Martin, where his wife was from. Some of Bearden’s later works reflected the island’s lush landscapes.
Bearden had many friends. Among his friends were James Baldwin, Stuart Davis, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Joan Miro, George Grosz, Alvin Ailey and Jacob Lawrence.
In 1987, Bearden received the Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan, and less than a year later, on March 11, 1988, Bearden died of bone cancer in New York City.
His estate made provisions for the establishment of the Romare Bearden Foundation to aid in the education and training of talented art students.