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Vincent Dacosta Smith
Shadows in Harlem
Etching printed on paper, artist's proof
Given by Reba and Dave Williams through Cambridge in America, 2004
Born in Brooklyn, Smith left his post office job in 1953 to become a full time artist, with subjects drawn mainly from the jazz clubs of Harlem. From the mid-1950s his art was increasingly politicised and he became a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. He recalled: 'Most people I came in contact with never knew a black painter nor had they hardly ever heard of one. We went through the hallowed halls of these museums…and we didn't see anything reflect the black experience or black contribution to American culture. We knew that we were going to be scorned and ridiculed. We also knew that our achievements were going to have to take, not rage, but knowledge and skill and scholarship and long years of dedication. There were no black art historians, blacks with PhD's were unheard of. Few blacks taught art in colleges in the North; there were no publications about black visual arts. There were only about four or five galleries open to us... Yet we painted up a storm!'
Among his views of New York neighbourhoods, nighttime Harlem had been prominent since the 1950s. This etching is typical in its patchwork surface pattern of figures, illuminated shop fronts and street signs, with disconcerting spatial relationships adding spice to Smith's spontaneous response to his subject.
The donors, Reba and Dave Williams (the Fitzwilliam's Honorary Keepers of American Prints) have been responsible for substantially enlarging and improving the Museum's collection of American prints.