Humbert Howard (1905-1990)

Humbert Howard (1905-1990). Boy with Blue Eyes, c.1965. Oil on panel, 5 x 6 inches; 15 1/2 x 16 inches in double platform frame original to the piece. Laughlin Frame, Philadelphia. Signed upper right. Excellent condition with no damage or restoration.



Humbert Howard of Philadelphia, born in 1905, is an important figure among contemporary African-American artists. Howard was educated at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. He was also art director of the Pyramid Club, a popular and respected black cultural center in Philadelphia. His integrationist approach to art broke down traditional boundaries that often had separated black and white artists. As director of the club’s art exhibitions, he selected works by both black and white artists for display.

In the late fifties, because of changing politics within the organization, Howard’s involvement with the Pyramid Club waned. At that time, he began studies at the Barnes Foundation, which he continued through 1961. The experience had a tremendous impact on him, revealed in the growing exaggeration, distortion, and abstraction of forms that became evident in his work of this period.

Although Howard enjoyed success as an artist, he worked as a mail carrier to “further of my favorite pastimes – eating.” By the time he retired in 1971, he had developed a loyal following of collectors and dealers in the Philadelphia area. In the eighties, he became increasingly involved with younger members of the local art scene. Often called the “dean of Philadelphia’s black artists,” he hosted meetings of the local chapter of the National Conference of Black Artists in his Hamilton Street living room.

At the time of his death in 1990 Humbert Howard had become a mentor to emerging black artists. Ernest Berry, a long time friend and collector of Howard’s work, said, “He was not just a painter. He was a person who believed in sharing his feelings with people through his painting. He was the kindest friend I had ever had in the art world.”

Mr. Howard’s paintings are part of the permanent collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, the Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center and the Philadelphia Afro-American Museum.