Romare Bearden (1911–1988) is recognized as one of the most important visual artists of the 20th century. His oeuvre consists of more than 2,000 known works in many media that reveals the diverse influences of Western masters, ranging from Duccio, Giotto, and Pieter de Hooch to Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse. Bearden also was fascinated with African art (particularly sculpture, masks, and textiles), Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints, and Chinese paintings.
Christian iconography appears throughout Bearden's body of work and is evident in The Manger with a blend of cubism and expressionism characteristic of the artist’s works from the 1940s. The Manger portrays a traditional nativity scene in which the Virgin Mary looks down at the baby Jesus alongside an ox. The painting reflects Bearden’s strategic use of religious subject matter in his attempt to create universal imagery and demonstrates his exploration of modernist modes of painting. After serving in the Army during World War II, Bearden created The Manger in a series of cubist-inspired watercolors and paintings called The Passion of Christ. This series was included in Bearden's first exhibition at a New York gallery, a solo show at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery that launched the artist’s career.
The National Gallery’s acquisition of The Manger (1945) is made possible by a gift of funds from Agnes Gund and through the generosity of P. Bruce Marine and Donald Hardy.