The Blue Tiger

Horace Pippin (American, 1888-1946)

Currently on View in K205
Image Licensing

Pippin was the first African American self-taught artist to receive national acclaim. In spite of an injury to his right arm during World War I, he never abandoned painting.

Pippin depicted everyday events, historical figures, and religious themes using a simplified style of flat shapes and strong colors.

In the American popular press of the 1910s and 1920s, the blue tiger was a recurring symbol of the unattainable, and the black bear signified the wilderness. The tiger and bear, rendered in contrasting tones, seem equally ferocious. With their impending clash, Pippin may be alluding to racial conflict.

Symbols of Unresolved Conflict

Horace Pippin was the most celebrated African American painter of his time. He had a brief artistic career that lasted less than ten years. Pippin was a self-taught painter whose subject matter concentrated on African American life. He had a speedy rise to fame after enduring poverty, racism, and a war wound. A World War I combat veteran, Pippin struggled to overcome an injury to his right arm from a German sniper’s bullet. One of his earliest paintings reflects his experience in battle. He was first discovered by the Philadelphia collector Albert Barnes in 1947 at age 49. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a show of Pippin’s work and his paintings were purchased by museums and private collectors shortly thereafter. He died of a stroke in 1946. Pippin painted 136 works – 60 are located in museums, approximately 70 are held privately, and several are lost.

The Blue Tiger shows a tiger in confrontation with a black bear. Since the blue tiger in the painting is actually white, and the two are equally matched, the painting evokes the unresolved conflicts between races. The blue tiger is a symbol of the unattainable and the black bear is a classic symbol of the American wilderness.

The painting was acquired with a high quality black frame, which did not offer enough contrast with the black bear. Research on Pippin’s original frames prompted its replacement with the comparatively austere wooden type seen here.

Stein, Judith E. I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia with Universe Publishing, 1993.

The artist; (Carlen Galleries, Philadelphia, until 1941); Henriette Liebman, Long Island City, New York; Carl Preston Green, Washington, D.C. and New York; Maurice Grosser, New York; Lou Rispoli, Queens, New York by bequest until 2004; Private collection; (Carole Thompson Fine Art, Santa Barbara, California; IMA 2008.

Object Information

Horace Pippin (American, 1888-1946)
creation date
about 1933-1937
oil on fabric
16 x 28 in.
mark descriptions
Signed l.r.: H.PIPPIN.
accession number
credit line
Gift of the Harrison Eiteljorg Gallery of Western Art by exchange, James E. Roberts Fund, Mr. and Mrs. C. Severin Buschmann, Jr. Fund
© Horace Pippin
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

You May Also Like