Archibald J. Motley, Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1891 to upper-middle class African American parents; his father was a porter for the Pullman railway cars and his mother was a teacher. Motley enrolled in the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he learned academic art techniques. Motley captured the complexities of black, urban America in his colourful street scenes and portraits. Painting during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, Motley infused his genre scenes with the rhythms of jazz and the boisterousness of city life, and his portraits sensitively reveal his sitters’ inner lives. Motley died in Chicago in 1981 of heart failure at the age of eighty-nine.