The Piano Lesson (Homage to Mary Lou)

Romare Bearden

Inspired by the improvisational approach of jazz music, Bearden started creating collages in 1964 that depicted African-American life in the rural South and Harlem. In these images, Bearden appropriated a technique associated with Cubism and Dada art, drawing upon cryptic symbolism from Afro-Caribbean culture to address religion, mythology, history, literature, and everyday life. He also layered these works with autobiographical elements culled from his childhood memories. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden moved with his family to Pittsburgh when he was still a child before settling in New York. Bearden studied with George Grosz, beginning his artistic career as a social realist in the 1930s. He shifted to abstraction in the 1950s until arriving at his breakthrough collages that would establish his prominent reputation. "The Piano Lesson" is one of a series of images rooted in Bearden's memories of Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. Visually, this print was inspired by two Henri Matisse paintings - "The Piano Lesson" (1916) and "The Music Lesson" (1917). Bearden depicted a music teacher and her student in a Southern parlor. He dedicated this image to the great jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, who, like Bearden, moved as a child from the South to Pittsburgh. "The Piano Lesson" also inspired Pittsburgh-native August Wilson's 1987 play of the same title.
Date of Birth
Color lithograph
29 1/2 x 20 1/2 in. (74.93 x 52.07 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary African-American Art