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Countee Cullen 19031946
 
"Yet do I marvel at this curious thing,/ to make a poet black and bid him sing!" With these words, Countee Cullen described the ambiguous position of the black artist in American society and alluded to his ambition to be remembered as a poet, not simply a poet of color. By the age of twenty-two, Cullen had graduated with honors from New York University and completed Color, his first volume of verse. He would become a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and artistic movement that flourished during the twenties.

Winold Reiss's portrait of Cullen appeared in 1925 in The New Negro, an anthology edited by Alain Locke, that served as a manifesto for the Harlem Renaissance. The German-born artist had long been fascinated by American culture. Here he conveys the poet's introspection with tilted head and averted glance. Celebrating Cullen's literary accomplishments, Reiss's portrait also captures the progressive spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and its quest for a new social awakening.

Winold Reiss (18961953)
Pastel on illustration board, circa 1925
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Lawrence A. Fleischman and Howard Garfinkle with a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts
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