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Renowned Archibald Motley Painting on Exhibit


‘Portrait of My Mother’ Explores African-American Life in Early 20th Century

Renowned African-American painter Archibald Motley Jr.’s work, Portrait of My Mother (1919), will go on display at the Chicago History Museum on Tuesday, November 21.

“Archibald J. Motley, Jr. is one of the city’s most heralded painters,” said John Russick, vice president of interpretation and education at the Chicago History Museum. “The Chicago History Museum is proud to exhibit this remarkable work by a young African American artist exploring the dimensions of portraiture at the dawn of the Jazz Age.”

Portrait of My Mother (1919) will go on view in the Museum’s cornerstone exhibition, “Chicago: Crossroads of America.” The Museum’s permanent exhibition provides background for many of the themes explored in Motley’s work, including the Chicago race riot of 1919 and the development of Chicago’s African-American music culture.

In 1919, the same year as Chicago’s deadly race riots, the artist painted the first of two portraits of his mother, Mary Huff Motley, a schoolteacher who was a source of constant encouragement to her son. Like much of Motley’s work, this early portrait foregrounds the dignity, humanity and vitality of Chicago’s African-American communities even as their growing presence in Chicago was met with violence, resistance and discrimination.

This was the first painting he exhibited as a professional artist, submitting it for the exhibition “Artists of Chicago and Vicinity” at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1921.

Motley’s work is included in the collections of several significant American museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, DuSable Museum of African American History, Howard University Museum of Art and the St. Louis Art Museum. In 1991, the Chicago History Museum organized the first retrospective of Motley’s work, “The Art of Archibald J. Motley, Jr.”


The Chicago History Museum is situated on ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi people, who cared for the land until forced out by non-Native settlers. Established in 1856, the Museum is now at 1601 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park, its third location. As a major museum and research center for Chicago and U.S. history, the Chicago History Museum strives to be a destination for learning, inspiration and civic engagement. Through dynamic exhibitions, tours, publications, special events and programming, the Museum connects people to Chicago’s history and to each other. To share Chicago stories, the Museum collects and preserves millions of artifacts, documents, images and other items that are relevant to the city’s history. The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago. 

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