Left: Alma Thomas, Watusi (Hard Edge), 1963; Right: Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953
Essentially, the shapes are the same, however Thomas chose a duller color palette and turned the painting on its side. She is not the first artist to create a study of an admired piece. Unfortunately, the announcement quickly morphed into a “situation” thanks to hordes of opinionated bloggers who seized the moment to criticize the Obama’s taste in art. “American art? I don’t think so!” railed one blogger back when the painting was merely a suggestion.
Thomas has been making history for decades. She was the first woman to graduate from Howard University’s fine arts department and the first to receive a MFA from Columbia University, as well. After spending 35 years teaching art to high schoolers, the mosaic-prone painter retired in 1960 and resumed her personal career as an artist. In 1972 she became the first African-American woman to have her own show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Another painting by Thomas, Sky Light, hangs in the first family’s private quarters.