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Return of the Prodigal Son

Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988). Return of the Prodigal Son, 1967. Mixed media and collage on canvas, 50 1/4 x 60 inches (127.6 x 152.4 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Armand J. Castellani (1981:39). Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

© Romare Howard Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Return of the Prodigal Son

© Romare Howard Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Return of the Prodigal Son

© Romare Howard Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Romare Howard Bearden

American, 1911-1988

Return of the Prodigal Son, 1967

mixed media and collage on canvas

support: 50 x 60 inches (127 x 152.4 cm); framed: 52 1/2 x 62 5/16 x 2 5/8 inches (133.35 x 158.27 x 6.67 cm)

Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Armand J. Castellani, 1981

1981:39

More Details

Inscriptions

signature, undated / upper right / romare bearden

Provenance

the artist;
to Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., New York, 1967;
to private collection, New York, 1967;
to J. L. Hudson Gallery, Detroit, (?) 1967;
to (?) Adrian Art, New York, by 1973;
sold at auction, Christie's, New York, May 23, 1978, Roland sale, lot no. 32, to Armand J. Castellani, Niagara Falls, N.Y.;
donated to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery by Mr. and Mrs. Armand J. Castellani, December 15, 1981

Class

Collages (visual works)

Work Type

Collage (visual work)

This information may change due to ongoing research. Glossary of Terms

Amid the political turmoil of the 1960s and after working several decades as a painter, Romare Bearden began to cut, tear, and reassemble found images into visually powerful explorations of themes ranging from Harlem and jazz to the rural South and spirituality. This work is based on the biblical parable of the prodigal son. In the account, a father divides his estate between his two sons. While one stays and helps run the family farm, the other leaves, squanders his share, and is ultimately forced to return home penniless but repentant. Rather than turning him away, his father welcomes him with open arms. However, in Bearden’s version, he is greeted by two women amid a sea of layered patterns and forms. Bearden also added another element: a candle that seems to float between the two female figures. This detail possibly refers to the early American tradition of placing a candle in the window when a member of the family was away as a token of love, hope, and faith, but also as a beacon of light. About his interpretation of this story, the artist has said, “The Prodigal Son has left North Carolina, gotten into bad company and has come back to the ‘old folks,’ his home, where, as Robert Frost says, when no one else wants you, they got to take you in.”

Label from Giant Steps: Artists and the 1960s, June 30–December 30, 2018

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