Cocktails by Archibald John Motley, Jr.

From the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Cocktails (1926) by Archibald MotleyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

In a room of warm pinks and magentas, elegantly dressed women gather around a table, enjoying a round of drinks. This jovial social scene is actually quite provocative—Motley created Cocktails during Prohibition (1920-33), when the manufacture and sale of alcohol were illegal in the United States.

A ray of cool blue light spills from the top of the large window, contrasting with the glowing, rose-colored lamp on the right.

While the chandelier, the candles on the mantle, and the fireplace remain unlit, these colorful light sources illuminate the cheekbones, necks, and shoulders of the women, bathing them in orange and pink highlights.

In contrast to the group of women, who mostly smile and tilt their heads as though engaged in cheerful conversation, the painting of a group of monks in the background suggests restraint and morality. The dull browns and whites of this painting-within-a-painting further emphasize the liveliness of the women, who lounge in a room resplendent with vivid light and color.

The presence of the butler, striding into the room from behind a green curtain, calls attention to the luxurious interior, filled with fine furnishings. Sitting at a table covered with a white tablecloth and a variety of drinks, the fashionably dressed women wait to be served.

The portrait over the mantel underscores the sense of prosperity, and also alludes to the importance of heritage. The chandelier obscures the sitter’s face, perhaps raising questions about her family history or relationship to the people in the room.

The woman at the left in the armchair also remains enigmatic. There is no empty seat for her at the table, so is she not part of the gathering? With her face turned away, it is unclear if she has dozed off or is tilting her head to listen in on the conversation.

Credits: Story

Text written by Layla Bermeo, Kristin and Roger Servison Assistant Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas.

Photograph and Video © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Black History and Culture
The past, present, and future of the Black experience in the United States
View theme
Google apps