Nightlife, c. 1943; Art Institute of Chicago

Nightlife, c. 1943; Art Institute of Chicago

Archibald Motley Jr. (1891-1981)

Archibald Motley, Jr. was born in New Orleans and raised in Chicago. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, exhibiting there in the early 1920s and winning many awards.  He became the second African American artist to have a solo exhibition of his work in New York City in 1928 at the New Galleries. He won the Harmon Foundation Gold Medal the same year for his portrait, Octaroon Girl. He traveled to Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1929. When he returned, Motley's distinctive style of genre painting began to dominate his work.  Motley worked for the WPA Easel Division in Chicago and was active at the Southside Community Art Center in the 1940s.  Following his wife’s death in 1945, Motley was forced to give up painting and take a job at Styletone, Inc., a company that made hand-painted shower curtains, in order to support his mother and son. He worked there for eight years, from 1949-1957.   

Motley’s work is featured in an exhibition currently at the Chicago Cultural Center: Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist (this exhibition originated at the Nasher Museum at Duke University, then traveled to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and will go on to the Whitney Museum of American Art when it leaves Chicago on August 31st) .


Arts and Letters Society, Chicago, 1917

Art Institute of Chicago, 1921, 1925, 1934, 2013

New Gallery, NY, 1928

Chicago Women's Club, 1933

Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 1936, 1947

Texas Cenntennial Exhibition, 1936

Howard University, 1937, 1938, 1945

Chicago Artists Group, 1938

Baltimore Museum, 1939

American Negro Exposition, 1940

South Side Community Art Center, 1940, 1941, 2010

Chicago Public Library, 1957

Chicago Public Library, 1978

Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1975

Chicago Historical Society, 1991

Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, 2014