DC’s National Gallery Acquires Its First Haitian Artworks Through Two Major Donations

The historic gift comes from four art collectors who share a longstanding passion for 20th-century Haitian art.

More than a dozen new pieces are entering the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in what represents the institution’s first acquisition of work by Haitian artists. The donated paintings and compositions were gifted by art collectors Beverly and John Fox Sullivan and Kay and Roderick Heller, as announced today (Nov. 13).

Painting of dozens of people participating in food marketplace
Rigaud Benoit’s Marketplace, (1965). Gift of Kay and Roderick Heller. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud, Hector Hyppolite and Louisiane Saint Fleurant are among the artists represented in the donation of fifteen works, which include two sequined flags by the textile artist Myrlande Constant and a 1992 piece by renowned contemporary painter Edouard Duval-Carrié.

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The gifted artworks, which touch on Haitian traditions and the nation’s socioeconomic history and geopolitical relationship with the U.S., will help expand the National Gallery’s representation of the African Diaspora, according to the museum’s director Kaywin Feldman. “The works included in the gift relate meaningfully to our collection of work by African American artists, and enable us to tell significant global, transnational stories,” she said in a statement.

Sequined flag depicting figure and three dogs
Myrlande Constant’s Moudongue Massai. Gift of Beverly and John Fox Sullivan. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Who are the art collectors behind the National Gallery’s gift?

John Fox Sullivan, the former publisher of Atlantic Media and the former mayor of Washington, Virginia, has been a longtime enthusiast of Haitian artwork with his wife Beverly. “The choices they made as collectors vary in style and the artists range from the most famous to unknown ones, but every single piece is exceptional in quality,” Axelle Liautaud, the former president of Port-au-Prince’s Centre d’Art, told Rappahannock News of their collection in 2019.

The couple have previously connected with Kay and Roderick Heller over their passion for Haitian artists—in addition to making trips to Haiti together, Beverly and Kay have supported medical, art and humanitarian organizations in the country by organizing fundraisers and art sales. In 2000, Kay co-curated the Tampa Museum of Art’s first exhibition of Haitian artwork, and Roderick previously assembled a catalogue raisonné for Benoit, who is one of his favorite artists.

“Sharing our appreciation of Haitian art with Beverly and John Sullivan as well as other friends has been an inspirational and instructive experience,” said Roderick Heller in a statement. “We are so pleased that the uniqueness and significance of these works are being recognized by the National Gallery and presented to a much wider audience.”

Painting of people standing outside gated entrance to city
Philomé Obin’s President Tiresias Sam entering Cap-Haitien, (1958). Gift of Kay and Roderick Heller. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Much of the artwork donated by the Sullivans and Hellers comes from Haitian artists connected to the Centre d’Art, an artistic and educational institution founded in 1944 by American artist DeWitt Peters. The gifted works will be displayed in an exhibition at the National Gallery that will open next September and run until March 2025. It will be organized by Kanitra Fletcher, the institution’s associate curator of African American and Afro-Diasporic Art, with assistance from art historian Justin M. Brown.

Tentatively titled Spirit and Strength, the show will feature works associated with the Haitian Indigenist Movement preceding the Centre d’Art. Pieces from African American artists who have drawn inspiration from Haiti, such as William Edouard Scott, Lois Mailou Jones and Jacob Lawrence, will also be included in the exhibition.

DC’s National Gallery Acquires Its First Haitian Artworks Through Two Major Donations