“Quarry on the Hudson:” The Life of an Unknown Watercolor

“Quarry on the Hudson” is an enigma. No images or record of the work have surfaced beyond its listing in the catalog for the Baltimore Museum’s 1939 exhibition.

Jones created an etching with the same title around the same time, but there is no way to know if the two works are connected.1 Etching would be a more unusual choice for Lois Jones than watercolor, which she taught at Howard University for her entire tenure there. Although Jones struggled with the fact that many critics dismissed watercolor as a feminine art form,2 she remained passionate about the medium. Part of watercolor’s appeal for Jones and other masters of the medium is its suitability for plein air painting and ability to render light.3

Jones’ landscapes span from renderings of sites near her family’s Martha’s Vineyard vacation home to depictions of the French countryside.4  They tend not to receive nearly the same level of attention as works featuring African motifs such as “Les Fétiches” (1938) or one of her portraits of Alain Locke.5 Those paintings pop up in many publications on Lois Mailou Jones, whereas a watercolor landscape like “Quarry on the Hudson” has no face.

The disappearance of “Quarry on the Hudson” is symptomatic of the sociocultural pressures put upon Jones. She was rejected from the American fine art institutions in Boston early in her career, instead told to go south to work for “her people” in black institutions.6 At Howard University, Jones received much creative support from her contemporaries and yet in that environment, she was restricted to being an African American artist, and not simply an American Artist.7 By the cultural standards of the time, a black female painter made no sense in the realm of American landscape painting.

“Quarry on the Hudson” comes from an early moment in Jones’ career. She would later turn more to black subjects in America and Haiti, only coming back to painting to landscapes after the death of her husband.8

[1] “Lois Mailou Jones | Quarry on the Hudson | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/491363.

[2] Driskell, David C. “Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1988).” American Art, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1998, Page 87.

[3] Laduke, Betty. “Lois Mailou Jones: The Grande Dame of African-American Art.” Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 8 No. 2, 1987-1988, page 28.

[4] Kirschke. Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Page 188.

[5] Benjamin. The Life and Art of Loïs Mailou Jones. Page XV.

[6] Rowell. “An Interview with Lois Mailou Jones.” Page 361.

[7] Jones. Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color. The Mint Museum, 2010. Page 82.

[8] Jones. Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color. Page 26.

 

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