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James Van Der Zee photographs, circa 1908-1935

Summary

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 Details

Collection Number
RL.11758
Title
James Van Der Zee photographs
Date
circa 1908-1935
Extent
.5 Linear Feet, 1 box
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Materials in English.

Collection Overview

Content Description

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.

More Biographical / Historical Info

Arrangement

Prints are arranged in chronological order.

Using These Materials

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 2 full business days in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access to the Collection

Collection is open for research.

warning 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 (donnavanderzee1@aol.com), 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.

More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

Identification of item], James Van Der Zee photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

1. Vintage Prints, 1924, 1944

2 prints

Original gelatin silver prints by James Van Der Zee.

Black Cross Nurses, 1924
(Image dimensions: 5 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 8 x 10 inches)

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.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0001
Father, 1944
(Image dimensions: 7 7/8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 7 7/8 x 10 inches)

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.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0002

2. Exhibit Prints, circa 1908-1935

40 prints

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.

The Village Blacksmith, 1908
(Image dimensions: 8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0003
Kate and Rachel, circa 1908
(Image dimensions: 10 x 8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)

Kate and Rachel Van Der Zee were the first wife and daughter of James Van Der Zee.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0004
Cousin Susan Porter, 1914
(Image dimensions: 10 x 8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)

Alternate title from another online image: "Cousin Suzie Porter." This portrait of Van Der Zee's cousin was taken in her Harlem home.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0005
Daydreams, circa 1915
(Image dimensions: 10 1/8 x 5 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0006
Future Expectations, 1920
(Image dimensions: 10 x 7 1/2 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 1/8 x 10 inches)

Signed. Alternate title from online images: "Wedding Day (Future Expectations)."

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0007
The Actor, 1922
(Image dimensions: 10 x 6 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0008
Emma and Children (Reading), 1923
(Image dimensions: 10 x 7 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0009
The Last Good-Bye, 1923
(Image dimensions: 10 x 7 1/2 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0010
Nude by Fireplace, 1923
(Image dimensions: 10 1/8 x 8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 9 7/8 inches)

Alternate title from online image: "Nude, Harlem."

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0011
Garveyite and Son, 1924
(Image dimensions: 9 7/8 x 7 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 1/8 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0012
Marcus Garvey in Regalia, 1924
(Image dimensions: 6 3/4 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 11 x 14 inches)

Garvey appears seated in a car with several others during a parade.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0013
Newsstand, Lenox Avenue, 1924
(Image dimensions: 6 x 9 1/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)

Alternate title from another online image: "Parade Along Lenox Avenue."

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0014
Parade Along Seventh Avenue, circa 1924
(Image dimensions: 7 x 9 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 9 1/2 x 12 inches)

Alternate title: "A Parade Going South on 7th Avenue at 139th Street, Harlem."

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0015
Gypsy Woman, 1925
(Image dimensions: 9 7/8 x 7 1/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0016
Portrait of Four Clerics, 1925
(Image dimensions: 10 x 8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 1/8 x 10 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0017
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Basketball Team, Cornell, 1926
(Image dimensions: 9 x 6 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 8 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0018
Beau of the Ball, 1926
(Image dimensions: 10 1/8 x 8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0019
Renaissance Casino, 1927
(Image dimensions: 7 1/8 x 9 3/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 9 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0020
Undeclared War, 1927
(Image dimensions: 10 x 7 3/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0021
Dance Class, 1928
(Image dimensions: 5 3/4 x 9 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0022
First Grade, St. Mark's School, 1928
(Image dimensions: 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0023
Union Baptist Church, 1928
(Image dimensions: 8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 1/8 x 12 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0024
Barefoot Prophet, 1929
(Image dimensions: 8 x 10 1/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0025
The Dark Tower, 1929
(Image dimensions: 7 3/4 x 9 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)

Interior shot of large group at CJ and A'lelia Walker's home and salon in Harlem; both women appear in the photograph.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0026
Going on a Long Journey, 1929
(Image dimensions: 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0027
Moorish Jews, 1929
(Image dimensions: 8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 1/8 x 12 1/8 inches)

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.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0028
Secretary, 1929
(Image dimensions: 10 x 7 3/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0029
"You Will Find Him at the Elk's Club", circa 1929
(Image dimensions: 9 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)

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.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0030
Bond Bread, 1930
(Image dimensions: 10 x 8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0031
Interior, GGG Photo Studio, 1930
(Image dimensions: 7 7/8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 11 x 14 inches)

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.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0032
New York Black Giants, circa 1930
(Image dimensions: 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0033
Poolside, circa 1930
(Image dimensions: 2 5/8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 7/8 x 14 inches)

Group portrait of approximately 50 children at a community pool.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0034
Drum Beat, 1931
(Image dimensions: 7 1/2 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0035
James Van Der Zee, 1931
(Image dimensions: 7 7/8 x 9 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 9 7/8 x 12 inches)

1931 appears in negative; 1930 on verso.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0036
Couple in Raccoon Coats, 1932
(Image dimensions: 7 3/4 x 9 7/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 11 x 14 inches)

Alternate title: "Couple, Harlem."

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0037
Goin' Home, 1932
(Image dimensions: 8 x 10 1/8 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0038
Thanksgiving, St. Mary's Convent, 1932
(Image dimensions: 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0039
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, 1933
(Image dimensions: 6 7/8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)

Signed. Double exposure portrait.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0040
Jack Johnson, 1933
(Image dimensions: 7 7/8 x 10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 12 x 10 inches)

Signed.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0041
The Heiress, circa 1936
(Image dimensions: 8 x10 inches; Sheet dimensions: 10 x 12 inches)

Date on negative appears to be 1936; date on verso is 1935.

Box 1
Image RL.11758-P-0042
 

Historical Note

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.


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Provenance

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.

Processing Information

Processed by Paula Jeannet, August 2019.

Accession(s) represented in the collection guide: 2019-0076.