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Artist Profile: Ellis Wilson

Ellis Wilson (b. April 20, 1899, Mayfield, KY; d. January 2, 1977, Manhattan, NY) was a painter from Mayfield, Kentucky, whose work combined aspects of Expressionism with Contemporary Realism. Wilson attended the Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute but was only allowed to take courses in agriculture and education, and so at 19 moved to Chicago to study art at the School of the Art Institute. He lived in Chicago until 1928, and then moved to New York at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a part of the Harlem Artists Guild and worked for the government’s Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1940. In 1944, Wilson received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him to travel across the Southern U.S. This period, together with his regular trips to Haiti starting in 1952, greatly influenced his work. He was a part of several national exhibitions, including The Negro Artist Comes of Age at the Albany Institute of Art and History (1945), a solo exhibition at the J.B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville (1948), and the Terry Art Exhibition in Miami (1952). In the last years of his life, Wilson lived in poverty and died at the Cornish Arms Home for Adults, where he was buried in a pauper’s grave.


A black and white photo of a smiling middle aged man with medium dark skin tone holding a flat wooden painter’s pallet and a brush, and appears to be working on a painting on an easel to his left that depicts an interior scene with many similarly dressed bodies. Ellis Wilson
A painting that depicts two lines of formally dressed figures with medium dark and dark skin tones, rendered in a flat, blocky style. They are dressed in blacks and whites, holding flowers and a black umbrella, as if for a funeral procession. One of the two lines appears close and the other farther away, facing the opposite direction, with an abstracted thicket of green plants between the lines.
Funeral Procession (1950)
RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY