Tribute to Loïs Maïlou Jones (1905-1998)

Written by Caroline Browne

Pictured: Loïs Mailou Jones, Self Portrait, 1940, casein on board, 17.5 x 14.5", Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Loïs Mailou Jones (1905-1998) was a successful and influential painter, designer, and educator. The artist was born in Boston in 1905 and eventually studied at the Boston High School of Practical Arts, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Designers Art School of Boston. In 1928 Jones moved to North Carolina to teach, where she established an art department at the Palmer Memorial Institute and later became one of the most eminent professors at Howard University.

Pictured: Loïs Mailou Jones, Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées, 1949, oil on canvas, 19.5 x 23”, Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

 

Jones first went to Paris in 1937 to study at the Académie Julian. The artist regularly returned to Paris and rendered Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées on one of her summer sojourns in southwestern France. Her portrayal of the picturesque and peaceful village nestled in a valley evokes landscape paintings by Paul Cézanne, a stylistic influence she acknowledged.

 

During her career, Jones painted in the United States, Paris, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She was highly influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and her natural surroundings in Martha’s Vineyard where she and her parents spent their summers. Her art not only varied in style but medium as well. Her works have been featured in many exhibitions, including in an exhibition at the Copley Society of Art in 1989 that also included works by Robert Freeman, Paul Goodnight, and Allan Rohan Crite.

 

Pictured: Loïs Mailou Jones, Seated Man in Yellow Overalls, 1939, oil on canvas, 30 x 24", Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Throughout her long career Jones explored many mediums and various styles from pastoral landscapes to African-style abstraction. After her marriage to Haitian graphic artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël in 1953, Jones found inspiration in the spiritual beliefs, sights, and sounds of Haiti. She saw the bright colors and bold patterns of Haitian art during trips to her husband’s home. A trip to Africa in 1970 to meet with contemporary artists there brought to fruition Jones’s earlier interest in African art. 

Pictured: Loïs Maïlou Jones, La Baker, 1977, acrylic and collage on canvas, 40.5 x 56.5”, Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

From Jones’ textile design to her paintings and illustrations, these artworks are nationally recognized and continue to be a topic of art historical research today. Throughout her career, Jones championed the international artistic achievement of African American art, and successfully embodied the ever-shifting cultural landscape throughout the 20th century in her work.

Cover Image: Loïs Mailou Jones, Jardin du Luxembourg, ca. 1948, oil on canvas, 23 x 28", Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum