Representing the inner self: Charles Sebree’s The Mystic

Charles Sebree expresses his inner self in The Mystic

Charles Sebree, The Mystic, c. 1940s, tempera and oil on board, 10 x 12 inches (Georgia Museum of Art). Speakers: Dr. Jeffrey Richmond-Moll (Curator of American Art, Georgia Museum of Art), Dr. Shawyna L. Harris (Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, Georgia Museum of Art), and Dr. Beth Harris


Charles Sebree, The Mystic

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Key Points

  • To render this small tempera and oil painting, Charles Sebree employed a variety of techniques. Paint is applied in different thicknesses and methods, even scraped off in places, to convey depth, space, and texture in the details of the figure and the atmosphere around him.   
  • The identity and location of this enigmatic figure is unknown, but likely reflect Sebree’s ongoing interest in the inner self and the role of the artist as visionary. Many artists of the time, working in the vein of social realism, documented the visible realities of inequality and injustice in the United States. Sebree’s images, however, often probed the relationship between the seen and unseen things in the world. 
  • Born in Kentucky, Charles Sebree came to Chicago as a child. At an early age, he found success there as part of a community of like-minded artists, many of whom were associated with the city’s South Side Community Art Center. This was an important period that launched his long and productive career, which brought him later to New York and then Washington, D.C. Today, however, his work is less well known than that of his fellow African American contemporaries of the first half of the 20th century.

Go Deeper

Read a biography of Charles Sebree.

See more work by Charles Sebree at Google Arts & Culture.

Learn about Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center and the city’s Black Renaissance in the 1930s–50s. 

More to Think About

In the final comments of the video, one of the speakers explains that The Mystic may be “a picture about vision that is the work of the artist.” How do you define artistic vision and how do you see it represented in this painting?  

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.