Palmer Hayden: Midsummer Night in Harlem, 1938
“Following his return from Paris in 1932, Hayden worked on the United States Treasury Art Project and the W.P.A. Art Project from 1934 to 1940, and painted scenes of the New York waterfront and other local subjects. During the late 1930s Hayden developed a consciously naive style, which represented various aspects of African-American life. One of the first paintings that heralded Hayden’s new style was Midsummer Night in Harlem, 1938, in which he effectively evoked the mood of Harlem’s residents congregating outside to escape the heat inside the tenements. Despite the flat forms and stylized figures, the compositional arrangement and treatment of perspective reveal Hayden’s academic training. African-American art historian James Porter apparently misunderstood Hayden’s objectives when he criticized Midsummer Night in Harlem as a talent gone astray,” and compared the painting to “one of those billboards that once were plastered on public buildings to advertise black face minstrels.” Hayden insisted, however, that he was not striving for satirical effects in his African-American folk paintings, but that he wanted to achieve a new type of expression.” - Regenia A. Perry. Free within Ourselves: African-American Artists in the Collection of the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art in Association with Pomegranate Art Books, 1992).