Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Greenhouse Fantasies (detail), 2014, oil on canvas, Hudgins Family Collection, © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, and Corvi-Mora, London

Announcing The Hilton Als Series: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

NEW HAVEN, CT (September 10, 2019)—The Yale Center for British Art presents an exhibition of recent works by the British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b. 1977). This display is the second in a series of three devoted to women artists working in Britain today, curated by the author Hilton Als in collaboration with the artists and the Center. The exhibition will be on view at the Center from September 12 to December 15, 2019, and then travel to the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, where it will be on view from January 25 to May 11, 2020.

This selection of paintings and etchings, completed between 2012 and 2018, focuses on Yiadom-Boakye’s interest in making portraits of fictional people of color drawn from found images and her rich imagination. At turns dreamy, dramatic, and lyrical, Yiadom-Boakye’s images depict people living in worlds where they have complete sovereignty and are viewed as human beings rather than artistic symbols of pain, suffering, triumph, or other projected notions.

Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections, said, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is among the most important artists working in Britain today. The selection of these works, which includes six paintings loaned by generous private collectors and a portfolio of etchings from the Center’s own holdings, offers an opportunity to see her powerful representations of imaginary people of color shown in action and contemplation. Arresting in its painterly beauty, her oeuvre stands in a long but often unrecognized tradition of images of black nobility.”

Yiadom-Boakye’s subjects exist outside a specific place and time. The artist deftly achieves this uncanny atmosphere through the use of fields of color and minimal settings, allowing the character of the imaginary sitter to come forward. The painting 1 pm, Mason’s Yard (2014) features a female figure in repose in a patterned chair, which is banked on the right side by a potted plant. The cues are few but speak volumes; naked feet with painted toes, a spiky plant, and splashes of green on the chair’s fabric all conspire to establish the presence of a personality but also to edge the artificial up against hints of nature.

Harp-Strum (2016) is a diptych telling a tale of motion and stillness through the juxtaposition of two images of dancers that vary just enough to show how a small gesture makes all the difference between openness and finality, reaching and refusing. The spontaneity, discipline, and joy expressed by the dancers also finds its form in the act of painting itself. The subtlety of expression is as natural as breathing and the brushy quality of the artist’s technique.

Throughout her career, Yiadom-Boakye has examined what introspection looks like not only to the spectator but to the subject. In Amber and Jasmine (2018), a young woman is poised between the moment she has just had and the one to come. Like Rodin’s The Thinker, her chin is cupped in her hand, a gesture indicating contemplation. The vibrancy of the rug’s patterns contrasts with the woman’s stillness, paused fleetingly between inhaling and exhaling. Here and elsewhere, Yiadom-Boakye addresses the question of what privacy looks like to an observer.

Like the great American portraitist Alice Neel, Yiadom-Boakye focuses on the humanness in men of color and their presence in a visual field, as in Brothers to a Garden (2017). In Greenhouse Fantasies (2014), Yiadom-Boakye pays particular attention to her subject’s eyes—their direct gaze and gentle, assured connection with the viewer.

As an emerging artist, Yiadom-Boakye was drawn to Whistler’s moody surfaces and Manet’s portraits of individuals in social situations, brought into being with a strong sense of color. (Whistler, like Yiadom-Boakye, was also a prolific writer). The paintings seen here recall those artists in their use of darkness—not as light’s absence but rather as light of a different kind.


The Hilton Als Series: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is organized by the Yale Center for British Art and curated by Hilton Als, staff writer and theater critic for the New Yorker, in collaboration with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections at the Center.

Opening Exhibition Event

Thursday, October 10, 5:30 pm

Hilton Als on Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Hilton Als is a staff writer and theater critic for the New Yorker and Associate Professor of Writing at Columbia University. Als won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2017 and Yale’s Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in 2016.

The Andrew Carnduff Ritchie Lectures were established to honor the memory of Andrew Ritchie, director of the Yale University Art Gallery from 1957 to 1971. These annual lectures, jointly sponsored by the Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery, bring to the university distinguished members of the international visual arts community.

Members' Tour

Friday, October 11, 3 pm

Join Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections at the Center, for a tour of this special exhibition. Not a member? Join today for free!

About the Yale Center for British Art

The Center is a museum that houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom, encompassing works in a range of media from the fifteenth century to the present. It offers exhibitions and programs year-round, including lectures, concerts, films, symposia, tours, and family events. Opened to the public in 1977, the Center’s core collection and landmark building—designed by architect Louis I. Kahn—were a gift to Yale University from the collector and philanthropist Paul Mellon. It is free and open to all. Visit the Center online at, and connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube @yalebritishart.

Media kit

Download our entire suite of documents and images related to this exhibition.