The Blue Tiger

Horace Pippin (American, 1888-1946)

Currently on View in K205
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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.

Curatorial Summary

Horace Pippin was the most celebrated African-American painter of his time, but 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 injury. A World War I combat veteran, Pippin struggled to overcome an injury to his right arm from a German sniper’s bullet, and one of his earliest paintings reflects his war experience. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City mounted a show of Pippin’s work, and his paintings were quickly purchased by museums and private collectors. He was first discovered by the Philadelphia collector Albert Barnes in 1939 when he was 51. Pippin died of stroke in 1946, and in his short career painted 136 works. 60 are in museum collections, and several are lost. About 70 are in private hands.

The Blue Tiger shows a tiger in confrontation with a black bear. Like its legendary namesake, the blue tiger in the painting is actually white shaded with gray—the same palette Pippin used for his portraits of Caucasian subjects throughout his career. By contrast, the bear is so black it almost disappears into the landscape. While the territories of tigers and bears do overlap in some parts of the world, Pippin’s painting is more visionary than realistic. Its existence unproven, the blue tiger can be seen as a symbol of the unattainable, and the black bear is a classic symbol of the American wilderness. Victory is uncertain as both animals are powerful predators, and the scene suggests conflict between races, which often ends in an unresolved struggle. Pippin himself rose quickly to success in the art world, reaching a level of fame that was unattainable by many black artists in his day.

The frame that came with this painting was a high quality black frame that made reading of the black bear and other details of the work very difficult. Research was done on Pippin’s original frames, and the black frame was replaced with a wood frame that is close to the type that the artist would have used.

Reference

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

artist
Horace Pippin (American, 1888-1946)
creation date
about 1933-1937
materials
oil on fabric
dimensions
16 x 28 in.
mark descriptions
Signed l.r.: H.PIPPIN.
accession number
2008.362
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
copyright
© Horace Pippin
collection
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945
colors

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