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Avel de Knight (American, 1921-1995), Cease Fire, from the series Army Life in a Black Regiment, 1969-1973, pen and ink with ink washes on paper, 10 5/8 x 14 5/8 inches, Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center, University of Richmond Museums, Museum purchase, funds from the Louis S. Booth Arts Fund, H2006.06.13 © Estate of the artist.
Aug 24, 2011
throughApr 04, 2012

Avel de Knight: Drawings for Army Life in a Black Regiment

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The exhibition features a series of twenty-two illustrations by African American artist Avel de Knight (1921-1995) created for a never-published version of the book Army Life in a Black Regiment written in 1870 by New England abolitionist, Thomas Wentworth Higginson (American, 1823-1911). Army Life recounts Higginson’s experience as a white commander of the Union’s first official regiment comprised of escaped slaves during the Civil War.  De Knight’s illustrations, created in pen and ink with ink wash on paper, convey the strength and bravery of the African American Civil War soldiers.

Avel de Knight
De Knight created his drawings for Higginson’s book between 1969 to 1973, a time of civil unrest in the United States.  The illustrations speak with a subtle and almost romantic imagery to convey the power, authority, and professionalism of a group of African American Civil War soldiers. Higginson portrayed the black soldiers as brave, committed, gentle, and deeply religious; de Knight captured these qualities in his drawings.  Strong outcast arms bear tattered flags; wounded bodies fall in graceful demise; heads rise up in song; a new year is celebrated; a baby is welcomed; a fallen comrade is borne by sorrowing shoulders.

Born in New York and raised by his Caribbean-born parents, De Knight attended Pratt Institute, New York, before entering in a segregated U.S. Army Unit during World War II.  After the war, under the G.I. Bill, he returned to France and studied in Paris at the École de Beaux-Arts, the Académie de la Grande Chaumier, and the Académie Julian.  By the late 1950s, he returned to the United States and began teaching at the Art Students League, New York, and in 1966 he was elected to the National Academy of Design becoming a full academician in 1970.  He was an instructor at the National Academy School of Fine Arts from 1981 until his death in 1995.  De Knight’s work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Academy of Design, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the University of Richmond Museums.
About the Exhibition

The exhibition is organized by the University of Richmond Museums and curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums.  Special thanks to Eileen Mott, former Coordinator, Statewide Exhibition Programs, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Jacqueline Clary, ’12, art history major, University of Richmond, and 2011 Harnett Summer Research Fellow, University Museums. A video created in conjunction with the exhibition can be viewed on the University Museums’ website at

Past Programming
- Saturday, October 1, 2011, 12:15 to 4 p.m.
Family Arts Day, Modlin Center for the Arts and University Museums
Featuring art activities, music, food, refreshments, and fun

- Friday, February 3, 2012, 12:30 to 1 p.m.
Curator’s Talk, Harnett Print Study Center, Modlin Center for the Arts
Avel de Knight’s Portrayal of Army Life in a Black Regiment
Jacqueline Clary, ’12, art history major, University of Richmond, and 2011 Harnett Summer Research Fellow, University Museums

Army Life in a Black Regiment