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Martin Luther King Jr.

A noted sculptor, painter, and printmaker, Wilson is best known for his powerful portraits of African American men. While most of the artist’s earlier images immortalized the anonymous working-class male, this work depicts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The print relates to one of Wilson’s most important sculpture commissions: a memorial statue of Dr. King for the U. S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC.

Despite its formality and solemnity, the sculpture strove to capture the inner spirit of its subject. Wilson wanted people to recognize Dr. King’s visage, but he also wanted them to sense his intangible energy and strength, as well as his personal struggles. As Wilson noted, “You couldn’t possibly grow up a black person without understanding the conflicts and anxieties in King. A calm and serene presence—but conflicts, worries inside.” This sense of weariness and vulnerability—suggested by the figure’s slightly down-turned eyes, darkened face, and sloping shoulders—comes through even more strongly in the print, which was based on studies for the sculpture but produced almost twenty year later.

For more information, see the African American Art module.

John Woodrow Wilson
American, born 1922
Martin Luther King Jr.
Etching and aquatint on chine collé
Image: 30 ½ x 27 ¾ in. (77.5 x 70.5 cm); sheet: 35 ¾ x 29 ¾ in. (90.8 x 75.6 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Purchased in honor of former Chancellor Sharon Brehm, 2005.16

Large image not available.