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The Barnett Aden Gallery, the first privately owned black gallery in the United States and one of Washington, DC's principal art galleries, was founded in 1943 by James Vernon Herring (1897-1969) and Alonzo Aden (1906-1961). Herring was chair of Howard University's Department of Art and Aden was curator of the Howard University Gallery of Art. The gallery was set up on the first floor of Herring's house, where he lived with Aden. The name Barnett honored Aden's mother's family.

The Barnett Aden Gallery was central to the development and support of local and national artists and featured, among others, Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Alma Thomas, and Charles White. Aden and Herring were influenced by Alain Locke, whose 1925 The New Negro explored intellectual and philosophical approaches to art. While Aden, Herring, and Locke were all African Americans, the gallery was not conceived as a "black gallery." It was one of the few art spaces in the city in which artists representing different nationalities, races, and ethnicities were exhibited together. Noted for its afternoon art openings, the Barnett Aden Gallery became an important social gathering place.

The gallery experienced its heyday in the 1940s and slowly began to decline in the late 1950s. With Aden's death in 1961, it was a challenge for Herring to keep it going. After Herring's death in 1969, the gallery closed. In the early 1970s there were two exhibitions of the collection at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (now the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution) and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The majority of the collection was acquired by the Florida Education Fund of Tampa, Florida. In 1998 it was sold to Robert L. Johnson and relocated to Washington, DC. The collection of more than 250 pieces is now part of Johnson's Black Entertainment Television (BET) art collection.

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