Van Der Zee, James. (1886–1983)

Portrait of a Woman with a Drum and a Man Balancing a Cornet

Extraordinary and unusual studio portrait by the great American photographer known especially for his portraits of middle-class black families in Harlem.  The present image depicts a woman playing a snare drum and a man balancing a cornet on his lips, the instrument neck painted by the photographer from the top of the arch on up, extending it to nearly surreal proportions, approximately the same length as his body.  The woman's stare seems directed beyond him, an ever so slightly bemused smirk visible on her lips, as though perhaps she has tired of such antics. A master of dark room manipulation and painted effects, Van Der Zee frequently painted the backdrops and other enhanced effects on the prints themselves, both features of the present remarkable photograph.  5.75 x 8.5 inches (14.6 x 21.6 cm.). Signed in the negative and with two stamps from his studio on verso. Minor losses to the upper left and right corners (in the margins), 4 small pinpricks to corners/edges, very subtle lighter colored block along the left side, otherwise in fine condition.

After serving as a dark room assistant in Newark, New Jersey, Van Der Zee opened his own studio in the late 1910's, just before the onset of World War I.  It proved to be a fruitful time, as black soldiers flocked to get their portraits taken before being shipped out.  His career took a downward turn in the 1940's and 50's with the exodus of the black middle-class from Harlem to the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, and despite some prominent museum exhibitions later in life, most artistic recognition of his work has come since his death. (18786)

Signed Photograph
Art & Design
Classical Music