Study for Aspects of Negro Life: An Idyll of the Deep South

Aaron Douglas1934

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Kansas City, Missouri, United States

The preeminent visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s, Aaron Douglas created this gouache as the study for the third panel of a mural project for the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library. Showcasing Douglas’ signature graphic style, derived from European Cubism and African art, the series narrates African American experiences from origins in Africa to 20th-century migrations to northern cities in the United States. An Idyll of the Deep South depicts, from right to left, agricultural labor to the tragic injustices in the South after Reconstruction. The star and ray of light reference the Underground Railroad’s directive to “follow the North Star,” while Douglas’ concentric circles link individual parts of the narrative to the whole.


  • Title: Study for Aspects of Negro Life: An Idyll of the Deep South
  • Creator: Aaron Douglas
  • Creator Lifespan: 1899 - 1979
  • Date Created: 1934
  • Physical Dimensions: w619 x h254 in (Unframed)
  • Provenance: Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust through the gift of David C. and Thelma G. Driskell; the generosity of Jeannette Nichols, Gwyn Prentice and Andy Atterbury, Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, Mary and Alan Atterbury, the Sosland Family, Adelaide C. Ward, G. Wesley Nedblake, J. Scott Francis, Nancy and Rick Green, Sherrill Mulhern, Ann and G. Kenneth Baum, Sandra and Willie Lawrence, Phyllis and Ron Nolan, Union Pacific Foundation, Ann Dickinson, Rose Bryant, and Barbara and Herman Jones; Clifton R. Mitchell Fund; bequest of Dorothy K. Rice; and exchange of the gifts of Fred Cameron Vincent, Mr. and Mrs. Otto Wittman, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Vincent Jones in memory of Fred Cameron Vincent, and Mr. and Mrs. Richard S. Davis through the Friends of Art, Mrs. James P. Townley, the Howard P. Treadway and Tertia F. Treadway Collection, Ainslie Galleries, Mr. and Mrs. Albert R. Jones, Mrs. Nell H. Stevenson from the estate of S. Herbert Hare, Mrs. Massey Holmes, the National Academy of Design from the Mrs. William T. Brewster bequest, Mrs. Francis M. Dean, Earle W. Grant, Dr. Harry H. Watts, Dupuy G. Warrick, Richard Shields, the Friends of Art, Mrs. Alfred B. Clark, Harold Woodbury Parsons, Mr. and Mrs. Milton McGreevy, Mrs. J. N. Rosenberg, Mrs. Logan Clendening, Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Stone, Harvey Leepa, Mrs. Peter T. Bohan, Mrs. Waters, and the bequests of Earl Katz and Dorothy “Sis” Katz, Marie P. McCune, Helen Harding, Wallace C. Goffe, Frances M. Logan, Mrs. Clyde Bonebrake Lockwood, Mrs. Peter T. Bohan, Herbert Vincent Jones Jr., Mrs. Walter M. Jaccard, Helen F. Spencer, Maud Cooper Needles, Milton McGreevy, and Nelson Trust and Nelson Gallery Foundation properties
  • Type: Gouache
  • Rights: Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust
  • Medium: Gouache over pencil on artist board
  • Culture: American

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