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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) recently acquired Forsythia and Pussy Willows start spring (1970), a painting by African-American artist Alma Thomas (1891-1978).

“We are delighted that Forsythia and Pussy Willows start spring joined the modern and contemporary art funds of VMFA ”, said Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of VMFA. “Alma Thomas was a major contributor to 20th century art. Her nature-based paintings have greatly influenced the artists who have followed her, and her brightly colored canvases resonate with viewers today.

Born in Columbus, Georgia, then Jim Crow, Alma Woodsey Thomas and her family moved to Washington DC, where more educational and economic opportunities were available to African Americans. In 1921, Thomas enrolled in arts education courses at Howard University, and in 1924 became the program’s first graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Fine Arts. After obtaining his Master of Arts in Education at Columbia University in the 1930s, Thomas taught at Shaw Junior High School in Washington DC for 35 years before retiring in 1960 and devoting himself to painting to the full. time.

Thomas had previously avoided abstract art in favor of figurative painting and still life. However, in the 1960s, while studying at the American University in Washington DC, she admired and reacted to abstract paintings created by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and other contemporaries at the Washington Color School. This loosely affiliated group of painters applied bright, colorful hues by staining and dipping their raw canvases with diluted oil or acrylic paint.

In 1972, Thomas became the first African-American woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. She was also the first African-American woman artist to have her work acquired and exhibited at the White House after former First Lady Michelle Obama selected two paintings, Watusi (Hard Edge) and Light from the sky, installed on loan at the White House in 2009, before the historic acquisition in 2015 of the 1966 Thomas painting Resurrection. Thomas’ works are featured in many museum collections, including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art. His work is the subject of the current national tour retrospective entitled Alma Thomas: Everything is beautiful.

“Acquiring a painting by Alma Thomas has long been a priority for the museum. We have patiently waited for an iconic work and are delighted to bring this vibrant visual echo of Thomas’ garden to our collection, ”said Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of modern and contemporary art at VMFA Sydney and Frances Lewis. “Forsythia and Pussy Willows start spring will complement VMFA’s existing works of African-American and female artists, artists from the Washington Color School, as well as famous masters of abstraction from Canon Norman Lewis, Henri Matisse and Wassily Kandinsky, whom Thomas noted as important influences.

Painting, by Thomas Earth series, is a classic example of the unique painting style she developed after encountering work from the Washington Color School. His technique of placing precise touches of bright colors in a succession of vertical hyphenated stripes conveys the beauty of a colorful flower garden. The palette of warm browns, cool greens, vivid blues and sunny yellows evokes the blossoming flowers, petals, grass, tree trunks and clear skies the artist could see from her picture window, which overlooked the garden of his house at 1530 Fifteenth Street in Washington CC

“Alma Thomas applied his radiant colors in a series of vertical and staccato brushstrokes in Forsythia and Pussy Willows start spring to capture, in abstract terms, the beauty and rhythms of the natural world, including the flowers of his garden, ”said Dr Michael Taylor, VMFA Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Art and Education . “The white gesso background that breaks both lines and bold pops of color not only helps to organize the rendering of the composition of the various shapes and colors of the natural environment, but it also brightens the scene and suggests light. of the sun through the flowers and leaves. We believe this cheerful painting will be a historic purchase for VMFA and an iconic work for our visitors to see and enjoy. “