A comparison of Romare Bearden`s “The Family” (1941) & “The Family” (1975)

  • Uncategorized

Acomparison of RomareBearden`s “The Family” (1941) &amp “The Family” (1975)

RomareBearden is a great artist who lived in Harlem, New York. His prints,‘The Family’ 1941 and ‘The Family’ 1975 represents a greatimpression of art where he expresses many thoughts and feelingsthroughout the paintings (Bearden 1). He has remarkably managed todeliver his message in the paintings by the use of color, characterdemeanor and the use of different background set-up. His painting‘The Family’ 1941 is perhaps more captivating because it depictsthe struggles of an African American family during the 1930s.Bearden’s other painting is the ‘The Family’ 1975, where heused a similar concept and family but slightly different in the sensethat the family in the second painting seems to be living a betterlife than in the fast one (Bearden 1). These two paintings aredifferent but shares a number of aspects. This paper draws comparisonof the two in terms of color, background and character demeanor.

Characterdemeanor and background

Inthe painting ‘The Family’ 1941, Bearden painted an image of anAfrican American family where the family appears to be strugglingeconomically. On the image, there is a table, with only a folk on itbut no food (Bearden 1). Basically, this probably indicate that thefamily does not have what to eat. Alternatively, it could suggestthat whatever the family has is not enough to feed each member. Onthe same table, there is an oil lamp which could have differentmeanings. It could suggest that the family does not have electricityor it could also suggest that the family is not economically stableenough to afford paying for the electricity bill. In a differentscenario, it could also be symbolic to indicate that the father issimply burning the midnight oil.

Onthe background of the image, Bearden used many colors and scatteredall of them in different shapes but on a single wall. This couldillustrate that the family is going through a tough time and there isno sense of unity (Bearden 1). Still on the painting, a man who isprobably the father has sat on the table with his hands on the faceof the lady. This lady could probably be the mother. This couldindicate that the mother is trying to look at the father with a lotof questions but the father does not want to be given that kind oflook.

Incomparison to the first painting ‘The Family’ 1941, the secondpainting ‘The Family 1975’, appears to be a painting of the samefamily who years later, are now living a better life than in thefirst one (Bearden 1). On this painting, the family table is full offood unlike in the first one where there was only a fork on thetable. On the table, there are plates and cups as well as a mancutting a loaf of bread. Consequently, this is a perfect indicationthat the family is now living a better life. The father seems to befinancially stable and can provide for the family without struggling.The family also appears to be more joyful and comfortable unlike in‘The Family’ 1941, where both the father and the mother appearedto be depressed.

Interestingly,the number of people in the second painting has increased compared tothe first painting. In ‘The Family’ 1975, there is a woman whoappears to be in a bathroom who taking a shower. This woman isprobably that child in ‘The Family’ 1941, but has grown older(Bearden 1). There are also two young children, one helping thefather to cut bread while the other is just standing.


Inthe painting ‘The Family’ 1941, both parents have been paintedblue and grey. The artist used these colors to symbolize sadness andanger (Bearden 2), which is the state they are in it. The familyappears to be going through a tough time where the parents arestruggling to provide for the family. Interestingly, this paintingwas done just after the Great Depression which occurred between 1929and 1939. The Great Depression was the longest and deepest periodwhere most of the western industrialized countries experienced aneconomic downturn. Therefore, this could explain the state of thisfamily in the painting. The woman in the painting also appears to bethinking about a solution but in vain. She even tries to get somefrom the husband but it’s not just good enough.

Asfor the child, a lot of white has been used. In most cases, white isusually used as a sign of peace and unity and in this painting thecolor could have been used by the artist to represent faith. Thefamily was struggling to provide for their child and them in generaltherefore, using a lot of white on the child just symbolizes hope(Bearden 2). On the other hand, the woman has been painted wearing ared dress and lipstick which could be a symbol of strength. It couldalso be used to illustrate fiery considering the fact that suchcharacter can prove to be helpful in such times.

Incomparison to ‘The Family’ 1941, brighter colors have been usedon the ‘The Family’ 1975 such as white, blue, green, yellow andlight blue. Bright colors are normally used to suggest joyfulness andhappiness. Therefore, Bearden could have used these colors toprobably express happiness in the family particularly in a familythat once struggled economically but years later, after things becamebetter, the family has restored a good economic stability.


Thesepaintings also have a number of similar aspects. Remarkably, ‘TheFamily’ 1941 and ‘The Family’ 1975 are paintings of the samefamily but only in different times and state of their life. In thepainting ‘The Family’ 1941, the family was strugglingeconomically and in the painting ‘The Family’ 1975, they areliving a better life. (Bearden 2). Another similarity is that bothimages were painted by the same artist, Romare Bearden hence the samestyle of painting. In both paintings, different colors have been usedwhich to carry different but interesting meanings. Both paintingshave the same characters as well, only that in the second painting,two more characters have been added and the previous characters havegrown older.


RomareBearden has emphasized the importance of color in the two paintingsdiscussed. It can be noted that each and every color in the paintingshas a specific meaning. White has been used on the child as a sign ofhope, red has been used on the woman as a sign of strength, brightcolors such as yellow and light blue have been used to emphasizehappiness and dark colors such as grey and blue have been used toemphasize sadness. Consequently, the artist has used one family intwo different paintings to illustrate two different conditions onewhere the family was struggling to make ends meet while the other onewhere the family is able to make ends meet. The uniqueness of thepaintings has also been seen in the style used, the creativity of theartist and the texture as well. More importantly, both paintings havea great meaning that can relate to many African American families.


Bearden,Romare. TheArt of Romare Bearden.Washington: National Gallery of Art in association with Harry H.Abrams, 2003.