Here we have a unicorn of a WPA era painting. It's a portrait of an African American man in a full fledged zoot suit. And get this; the rare artwork was painted the year before the infamous Zoot Suit Riots of June 1943 (more on that below).
I'm spinning over this beauty. I've search far and wide, and I can't find anything like it from this time period. This dude is dressed to the 9's and ready to get the city bouncin'. I can't get over that sweet hat. Wicked!
The rare painting came out of the estate of Minnesota artist John Beauchamp. He not only was an amazing artist, but he collected some of the best items around, including art and music. The oil on board painting is signed in the lower left "N. Mael '42." I'm still trying to find out more about the artist. I did find one other piece by this WPA era artist from 1939. Here's a link to a picture of the artist's signed sketch that turned up.
And now, the zoot suit.
Here's the link for the Wikipedia page about the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943:
Here's a short history of Zoot Suit fashion courtesy of the previous Wikipedia page.
Zoot suit fashion founds its origins in the urban black scene during the 1940s. This style of clothing cultivated a sense of racial pride and significance; however, the fashion statement soon made its way into the wardrobes of young Southern Californian Mexicans and Filipinos, who became the quintessential wearers of the zoot suit. The transfer and sharing of the zoot suit fashion indicated a growing influence of black and white popular culture on young Mexican and Filipino Americans. Additionally, “analysis of the Los Angeles zoot-suit riot and journalists' and politicians' in and the outfit's connections with race relations, jazz music and dance, slang permit an understanding of the politics and social significance of what is trivial in itself -- popular culture and its attendant styles.”
The zoot suit was originally a statement about creating a new wave of music and dress, but it also held significant political meaning. The flamboyant and colorful material indicated a desire to express oneself against the boring and somber slum lifestyle. The zoot suit provided young black and Mexican youth a sense of individualistic identity within their cultures and society as they discovered “highly charged emotional and symbolic meaning” through the movement, music, and dress.
The zoot suit typically included bright colored fabric, long coats that often reached the knees, wide flamboyant shoulders, and ruffled slacks. The arm and ankle areas were often much tighter than the rest of the fabric, giving the whole look a triangular shape.
Often the suit was paired with accessories such as chains and leather soled-shoes, which were typically worn to exaggerate and prove a point of rebellion against the wealth and status that many of these youth were unable to access due to their social and racial status.
The zoot suit was a form of expression as well as a sense of rebellion. However, the zoot suit riots proved that there was a counter force, largely white servicemen, that tried to stop any of the recent progress black and brown Americans have been making.
The rare oil on board painting measures 17" x 14". There is some wear on the surface. There are a few small losses on the gentleman's forehead (see pic). There is wear along the edges. Along the bottom there are faint horizontal lines (?), but they aren't losses. The lower left corner has a few losses as well. The reverse shows some signs of staining but nothing coming through to the front. Please see all pics as they are part of the description.
I ship FedEx to street addresses in the continental USA only (no PO boxes). Free shipping on the rare WPA painting.
I doubt I will ever have the luck of running across another painting like this. Throw in the historical year of creation along with the subject matter and you're cooking with some serious hot sauce. I'm fine if it never sells.