The National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC, announced today that it has received a gift of 15 works of art by modern and contemporary Haitian artists, and that the suite of works will be on view in an exhibition slated for autumn 2024. These are the first pieces by Haitian artists to be added to the NGA’s permanent collection. Of the 15 works, 13 are paintings while two are sequined flags by the artist Myrlande Constant.
The pieces were donated to the museum from the collections of two couples: Kay and Roderick Heller and Beverly and John Fox Sullivan. They range from as early as the 1940s to as recently as 2001. A number of the artists included in the donation were associated with Centre d’Art, a school, gallery and cultural hub in Port-au-Prince founded in 1944 by American artist DeWitt Peters. The full list of artists included in these donations is: Castera Bazile, Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud, Myrlande Constant, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Hector Hyppolite, Philomé Obin, Andre Pierre, Louisiane Saint Fleurant and Gerard Valcin.
“Assembled with great care, curiosity and passion over many decades, the Heller and Sullivan collections demonstrate the remarkable spirit and strength of artistic production across the Republic of Haiti,” Kaywin Feldman, the NGA’s director, said in a statement. “We are immensely grateful for these generous gifts as they contribute to the National Gallery’s representation of the African Diaspora. The works included in the gift relate meaningfully to our collection of work by African American artists and enable us to tell significant global, transnational stories.”
The autumn 2024 exhibition is tentatively titled Spirit and Strength, and was curated by Kanitra Fletcher, associate curator of African American and Afro-Diasporic art at the museum, with the assistance of art historian Justin M. Brown. Fletcher is the NGA’s first-ever curator of African American art, a position she has held since 2021. The 2024 show will also feature works related to the Haitian Indigenist Movement, as well as works by African American artists who traveled to or drew inspiration from Haiti, such as Jacob Lawrence, Lois Mailou Jones and William Edouard Scott.
“To have our 40-year passion for collecting Haitian art validated by the National Gallery brings us such joy and pleasure,” said John Fox Sullivan, who is, alongside his wife Beverly, the benefactor behind seven of the 15 donated pieces.
Roderick Heller, who donated the rest of the works alongside his wife Kay, added: “Sharing our appreciation of Haitian art with Beverly and John Sullivan as well as other friends has been an inspirational and instructive experience. We are so pleased that the uniqueness and significance of these works are being recognised by the National Gallery and presented to a much wider audience.”