Black Is Beautiful: A Public Domain Print Shop Special Collection

One of the most difficult aspects of running The Public Domain Print Shop is ensuring there are a diverse array of human beings represented in the imagery curated here.

One of the reasons this is so challenging is that (by and large) we’re limited to only utilizing works in the public domain, meaning, in general, works of art created in or prior to 1927. And if you think back to 1927, you can probably imagine how supportive the artworld was to POC artists, or of art depicting POC individuals with any degree of dignity and respect.

Does that mean there were no paintings of POC people or POC artists working and creating art at that time? Not at all, of course there were POC artists creating beautiful pieces of art, the problem is that the white western art world didn’t care, and because they didn’t care those pieces of art weren’t collected by archives and museums, which in turn means they weren’t preserved and protected, so many of them have been either lost to history, destroyed, or are sitting in a backroom somewhere with no one to care about digitizing them for the world to see.

Of the underrepresented POC individuals, Black individuals have consistently been ignored as subjects, white-washed, misrepresented, or vilified by the white european controlled art world. With Black women in particular being one of the most underrepresented figures in western art history.

With this in mind, over the past year, I’ve been working to curate a gallery of free, high resolution public domain artwork that represents Black individuals with dignity and respect. It is my hope to keep growing this collection over time as I discover additional pieces of work.

If you are interested in learning more about this collection, the representation of Black bodies in Western Art and why I chose to alter the titles of several of these works, please be sure and read the collection notes at the bottom of this post.

Due to the nature of this drop, in lieu of requesting donations towards supporting the Public Domain Print Shop, I would encourage you to send any donations to The National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Black Is Beautiful Collection

Sketches, Drawings & Illustrations

Collection Notes

Slavery, Orientalism & Black Bodies In Western Art

As a note in regards to western art history and the representation of Black bodies that I think is worth mentioning here, during the late 1800s there was a widespread craze for what has become dubbed as “orientalism” and painters who could produce “exotic” works of art were suddenly in high demand. This lead to a drastic uptick in the number of paintings representing Black bodies, however these Black individuals were often garbed in over the top “oriental” outfits that would please the white western art market that was captivated by seeing bright jewel tones against dark skin. You can see the overtones of this artistic movement in some of the images in this collection.

Additionally, while there is little historical documentation as to who the sitters were for many of these works of art, I think it is important to note that many of the individuals represented in the artwork featured in this collection were likely slaves who were forced to model for these paintings. Rather than glorifying the artists, or those who enslaved these individuals, it is my hope that this collection can instead empower the sitters and uplift their voices and the stories they have to tell us.

Learn More About Black Bodies In Western Art

This is an extremely complex subject and I am not an expert in this field, so if you are interested in learning more about how black bodies have been represented historically in western art, I encourage you to explore these resources from The National Gallery of Art & The Image of Black in Western Art.

The Image of the Black in Western Art – Part One
The Image of the Black in Western Art – Part Two
The Image of the Black in Western Art – Part Three

Public Domain Vs. Personal Use Only

Please be aware that several of the images in this gallery are NOT in the public domain, however the museum has graciously provided high resolution digital downloads of the files for PERSONAL USE ONLY. Meaning you are free to print the art off to display in your own home, or gift to a friend for example, but you are not allowed to download the art and then sell the image to someone.

Alterations To Artwork Titles / Trigger Warning

While I typically dislike changing or removing the title of a work of art, the fact of the matter is that many images of Black individuals were originally given titles utilizing racist language. Those words have been updated for this collection in an effort to not perpetuate the existence of racist terminology because words matter. However, please be aware that when navigating to the museum archive that houses the image files, you may be confronted with the original outdated language used in the original title.

I understand that opinions on whether or not images with these titles should even be included in a gallery like this differ, however it is my belief that the human beings represented in these portraits are important, their stories are important, hanging their images on our walls with pride is important and is a way of honoring these individuals with the dignity that was originally stolen from them during their lifetime.

Image Sizes In This Collection

While I typically ensure that all images in the public domain print shop are at least 3000px on their longest edge (to ensure high quality prints), some exceptions to that rule have been made in this collection in order to include a handful of works of art that unfortunately did not meet that criteria but were too beautiful to exclude.

Privilege Check

I want to be the first to note here that as a white woman presenting this collection, I may have overlooked potentially problematic points. And while I did my best and ensured this collection was audited by a panel of POC individuals before being posted, I welcome any feedback you might have on how to improve the collection for the future at ahomeisannounced@kadiepangburn

Special Thanks

I would like to extend a special thank you to @nestwithjess, @the_kurtz_home, @pinchplateparty, and @buildingbradley for generously volunteering their time, energy, and thoughtfulness to audit and review this collection for me. Your feedback was invaluable. In addition, I would also like to thank Adam Wilkerson and my husband Joe Pangburn for lending their expertise and feedback to this collection as well.

The images in this gallery are low resolution preview images only and therefore not suitable for printing, to download a HIGH RESOLUTION FILE of any of the images below for free, simply click on the desired image and you will be taken to the digital gallery archive where that image is hosted. Once there, you will be able to download a high-resolution file of your image to print.

If you are interested in learning more about The Public Domain Print Shop and how you can use artwork in the Public Domain to decorate your home FOR FREE CLICK HERE to read my previous blog post where I talk all about about it!

And if you decide to use one of these pieces of art in your home, I would love to see it! You can tag your image with the #CURATEHOME hashtag if you share it on social media, or email/DM me a picture of the art in your home!

Happy art my friends!

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