The Piano Lesson (Homage to Mary Lou)

Romare Bearden (American, 1911-1988), The Piano Lesson (Homage to Mary Lou), 1984, lithograph. Purchase: Gift of Paul K. Kania, 2023.

The Museum is excited to announce the recent acquisition of The Piano Lesson (Homage to Mary Lou) by Romare Bearden, the first work by this major African American artist to enter the collection. Bearden is particularly celebrated for his innovative and expressive collages. For this work, he collaborated with master printers at Mojo Portfolio to translate his composition from collage to a dazzling twenty-four-color lithograph.

Bearden drew inspiration for this print from two paintings by the French modernist Henri Matisse, The Piano Lesson (1916, MoMA) and The Music Lesson (1917, Barnes Collection). However, he chose to set his scene in the American South, a nod to his childhood in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina. In turn, Bearden’s print inspired August Wilson’s 1987 play The Piano Lesson, which centers around a family’s piano that has carved portraits of their enslaved ancestors.

Bearden dedicated this work to Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981), a jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. The print was commissioned by the Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Foundation, an organization founded by Bearden’s wife that supported the work of dancers, choreographers, and theater artists of color.

Bearden’s print resonates across creative disciplines and art history, providing rich opportunity for conversation and discovery.  Look for this exciting acquisition in the Museum’s American galleries beginning on February 24, 2024, when the work will be the focus of a free Dynamic Conversation with scholar Robert O’Meally.

The purchase of Romare Bearden’s The Piano Lesson (Homage to Mary Lou) has been generously supported by Paul K. Kania.