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Sat, 10.16.1943

The Barnett-Aden Gallery Opens

*The Barnett-Aden Gallery opened on this date in 1943. This was the first Black-owned nonprofit art gallery in America.

Located in Washington D.C. it was founded by James V. Herring and Alonzo J. Aden, who was associated with Howard University's art department and gallery. The gallery operated until 1969, was the first successful Black-owned private art gallery in the United States showcased numerous important artists; and became an important, racially integrated part of the artistic and social worlds of the 1940s and 1950s Washington, D.C. The gallery was located on the first floor of 127 Randolph Place, NW row home shared by the two founders, who were life partners.

Herring joined the Howard faculty in 1921, started the University's Art department in 1922, was its head until he retired in 1953, and founded the University's Gallery of Art in 1928 (it opened in 1930). Aden, a former student of Herring at Howard who was the first curator of the University's Gallery of Art until he left that position in 1943, was the director of the Barnett-Aden gallery, and it was named after his mother, Naomi Barnett Aden. Black artists featured at the gallery included Alma ThomasElizabeth CatlettLois Mailou JonesCharles WhiteEdward Mitchell BannisterJacob LawrenceLaura Wheeler WaringRomare BeardenHenry O. Tanner, and Bernice Cross.

The collection featured artists of every race, particularly African American artists whose work was shown in few other venues. "...there were few such opportunities in the years following World War II...in those bleak years, the Barnett-Aden Gallery was one of the few private galleries where Black painters, sculptors, and graphic artists had a continuing opportunity to expose their works.” The gallery opened with the exhibition "American Paintings for the Home." It was officially incorporated on August 19, 1947. The early gallery as it existed in 1947 can be seen in the painting First Gallery by John Robinson. Exhibitions, shows, receptions, and other events provided a racially integrated gathering place for the art community in a segregated city from the 1940s to-1960s.  

Eleanor Roosevelt was photographed visiting the Barnett-Aden Gallery in 1944, as First Lady. Romare Bearden said that the first time he saw a Matisse in Washington was at the Barnett-Aden. Therese Schwartz wrote that the Barnett-Aden was the most important art gallery in America south of New York. The gallery began to decline in the late 1950s. After the death of the founders in 1961 (Aden) and 1969 (Herring), the gallery closed and the bulk of the gallery's collection was transferred via Adolphus Ealey to the Museum of African American Art in Tampa, FL, (now defunct) as well as to private collections.

The collection was shown in the 1970s at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Much of the collection was owned by Robert L. Johnson. In 2015, he donated portions to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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