James Van Der Zee photographs, circa 1908-1935
Collection comprises 42 gelatin silver prints of images taken in the first decades of the 20th century by James Van Der Zee, noted photographer based in Harlem, New York City. Many are portraits of well-known and ordinary African Americans in Harlem. There are also fictionalized settings and poses conveying hopes, dreams, and humorous situations, as well as views of parades, athletic teams, a Baptist group, a first-grade Harlem classroom, and the interior of Van Der Zee's studio. Subjects include an elegant couple in raccoon coats, a soldier, a female impersonator, a funerary portrait of a man in an open casket, Black Hebrews, Black Cross nurses, Marcus Garvey in regalia during a parade, entrepreneurs Madam C.J. Walker and her daughter A'Lelia, boxer Jack Johnson, and entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Included is a self-portrait of the photographer playing a violin, circa 1930. The photographs evoke the diverse and flourishing society of the Harlem Renaissance (1920s-1930s). An early portrait of Van Der Zee's first wife and daughter was taken around 1908, in Lenox, Massachusetts, his birthplace. Average print size is roughly 10 3/4 x 12 inches. Two are original vintage prints; the rest are exhibit prints created mostly in the 1980s from original negatives. Some prints are signed; all are titled and dated on the verso. Several bear the GGG Studio stamp at the 272 Lenox Avenue address. Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.
- Collection Number
- James Van Der Zee photographs
- circa 1908-1935
- .5 Linear Feet, 1 box
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials in English.
Collection comprises forty gelatin silver exhibit prints and two vintage prints of images taken in the first decades of the 20th century by James Van Der Zee, noted photographer based in Harlem, New York City. Many are portraits of well-known and ordinary African Americans in Harlem. There are fictionalized scenes and poses evoking hopes, dreams, and humorous situations, as well as views of the interior of Van Der Zee's studio, Harlem parades, a Baptist church building and its congregation, and a first-grade Harlem classroom. Included is a self-portrait of the photographer playing the violin, circa 1930. Other subjects include an elegant couple in raccoon coats; a 1923 soldier; the New York Black Giants baseball team; a female impersonator; a man in an open funeral casket with a superimposed poem extolling fatherhood; a group of African American Hebrews in front of the Moorish Zionist Temple; Marcus Garvey in regalia during a parade; a Garveyite with his son; entrepreneurs Madam C.J. Walker and her daughter A'Lelia in their "Dark Tower" salon with a large group of friends; boxer Jack Johnson; and a double exposure portrait of entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. The photographs evoke the diverse and flourishing society of the Harlem Renaissance; later images exhibit a certain optimism in spite of the looming Great Depression and its effects.
Prints are arranged in chronological order. The earliest images, from 1908, are of Van Der Zee's first wife and daughter, probably taken in Lenox, Massachusetts, Van Der Zee's birthplace, and a blacksmith, probably taken in Virginia, where Van der Zee spent some time before moving to New York.
The exhibit prints were created from original negatives chiefly from 1981-1983, under the supervision of James Van Der Zee until his passing in 1983. Others were printed around 1987 by his widow Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee. All prints bear titles, dates, edition information, and copyright on verso. Most are from runs of 250 limited edition prints created for various exhibits. Some are signed by the photographer.
The majority of the prints measure 10 x 12 inches (sheet dimensions); image sizes range from 10 1/8 x 8 to 10 x 2 5/8 inches.
Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.
Prints are arranged in chronological order.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University.
Publishing requests should be directed to Mrs. Donna Van Der Zee (firstname.lastname@example.org), who retains the copyright on all materials in this collection.
For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
Identification of item], James Van Der Zee photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Original gelatin silver prints by James Van Der Zee.
Alternate title from an online image: "Black Cross Nurses at UNIA Parade Honoring Marcus Garvey." UNIA was the United Negro Improvement Association, led by Black nationalist Marcus Garvey. Recto bears editing marks; verso carries GGG Studio stamp at 272 Lenox Avenue, indicating the print may have been created afer 1930.
Alternate title from an online image: "Father's Farewell." Image of man in open casket surrounded by flowers, with superimposed narrative extolling fatherhood. Verso bears the GGG Studio stamp at 272 Lenox Avenue.
These prints were created from original negatives under the supervision of James Van Der Zee mostly from 1981 to 1983. Others were printed around 1987 by his widow Donna Admussen. All prints bear titles, dates, edition information, and copyright on verso. Most are from a run of 250 limited edition prints created for various exhibits. Some are signed on the verso by the photographer. With few exceptions, they are embossed in the lower right corner with the seal of the James Van Der Zee Estate.
Kate and Rachel Van Der Zee were the first wife and daughter of James Van Der Zee.
Alternate title from another online image: "Cousin Suzie Porter." This portrait of Van Der Zee's cousin was taken in her Harlem home.
Signed. Alternate title from online images: "Wedding Day (Future Expectations)."
Alternate title from online image: "Nude, Harlem."
Garvey appears seated in a car with several others during a parade.
Alternate title from another online image: "Parade Along Lenox Avenue."
Alternate title: "A Parade Going South on 7th Avenue at 139th Street, Harlem."
Interior shot of large group at CJ and A'lelia Walker's home and salon in Harlem; both women appear in the photograph.
Signed. The Moorish Zionist Temple of the Moorish Jews was founded in 1921 by a follower of Marcus Garvey, Mordecai Herman, who appears in the group photograph.
Full title appears on negative; "You Will Find Him" and the date appear on verso. The studio address, 109 W. 135th St., appears on the negative.
Signed. Interior of Van Der Zee's studio, location not determined. Beginning in the early 1930s, prints with an address stamp bear this location 272 Lenox Avenue.
Group portrait of approximately 50 children at a community pool.
1931 appears in negative; 1930 on verso.
Alternate title: "Couple, Harlem."
Signed. Double exposure portrait.
Born in Lenox, Massachusetts on June 29, 1886, James Van Der Zee moved to Harlem, New York City as a young man, and had already established his own photography studio on West 135th Street by 1916; sometime in the early 1930s he moved his flourishing studio to 272 Lenox Avenue. He became one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance and was much sought after duek to his talent for portraiture.
in 1969 his work was featured in a 1969 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, "Harlem on my Mind," after which, already in his eighties, he enjoyed a revitalized career and received many accolades. He received the Living Legacy Award from President Carter in 1978, and was named a fellow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Van Der Zee died in Washington, D.C. on May 15, 1983, shortly after receiving an honorary doctorate from Howard University. His widow, Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee, manages the James Van Der Zee estate. His work is held by major U.S. cultural institutions and has been exhibited around the world.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Black Cross Nurses -- New York (State) -- New York -- Photographs
- Garvey, Marcus, 1887-1940 -- Portraits
- John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
- Johnson, Jack, 1878-1946 -- Portraits
- Robinson, Bill, 1878-1949 -- Portraits
- Robinson, A'Lelia Walker, 1885-1931 -- Portraits
- Universal Negro Improvement Association
- Van Der Zee, James, 1886-1983 -- Portraits
- Walker, C. J., Madam, 1867-1919 -- Portraits
- African American celebrities -- Portraits
- African American children -- Portraits
- African American families -- Portraits
- African American men -- Portraits
- African American photographers -- New York (State) -- New York
- African American soldiers -- Portraits
- African American women -- Portraits
- African American portrait photographers
- African Americans -- Portraits
- African Americans -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social life and customs -- 20th century
- Black Hebrews -- New York (State) -- New York -- Photographs
- Female impersonators -- New York (State) -- New York -- Portraits
- Harlem Renaissance
- Middle class African Americans -- United States
- Harlem (New York, N.Y.) -- Photographs
- Harlem (New York, N.Y.) -- Religious life and customs.
- Harlem (New York, N.Y.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century
The James Van Der Zee photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase from the James Van Der Zee Estate in 2019.
Processed by Paula Jeannet, August 2019.
Accession(s) represented in the collection guide: 2019-0076.