In Memoriam: Mary Frances Whitfield (1947-2023)

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, and a cherished artist of our community, Mary Frances Whitfield passed away on November 5, 2023. Galerie Bonheur mourns her passing and celebrates her profound legacy.

A portrait of Mary Frances Whitfield

Today, we share reflections from Laurie Ahner, our Director/Owner, on Mary’s impactful journey and the enduring legacy she leaves behind in the art world. Join us in remembering and honoring Mary’s extraordinary life and contributions.

It is with deep sadness that I report the death of our beloved artist Mary Frances Whitfield (1947-2023) on November 5, 2023, from cancer.

I met Mary many years ago while she was participating in an exhibit entitled ‘Love’ at the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. I stopped in my tracks as I was walking by her painting of a lynched man, with his wife holding him beneath the tree and their baby close by, behind the tree. I started to cry and was visibly moved by this extraordinary and passionate work of art. Mary was standing there next to her painting, and she asked me, ‘Do you like my work?’ I was entranced. I asked her about her history, and we bonded immediately.

I said that I did not know of her paintings but that I would love to see more, and that I could possibly represent her in my gallery. I gave her my business card and hoped that it might lead to further knowledge of this talented and unique artist.

In 1998, I received a call from Mary’s agent, who asked if we would represent her work at my gallery in St. Louis, Galerie Bonheur. We began showcasing her work, and in 1999, brought it to the notable Outsider Art Fair in New York City, a show I had been a part of since its start in 1993. Our presentation at the fair was met with immediate reactions to her powerful and stirring work. In the time that followed, many of Mary’s paintings were placed into important private collections.

We also exhibited Whitfield’s work in Chicago, Texas, Michigan, the Black History Museum in St. Louis, and many other venues. Mary became one of our stars, not surprising as her message is timeless, telling of the constant struggles of African Americans. The paintings portray riveting visual images depicting both the tragic stories of slavery and lynchings, as well as those of peaceful plantation life and family ties in the South.

Mary’s art always embodied a profound human tenderness and love, often heartbreakingly moving. Her paintings, lovely, sensitive, and stunning, lyrically depict passion, despair, injustice, and perseverance. They are haunting yet can be spiritual and gentle, a beautiful interplay of beauty and sorrow.

This incredible talent is her true gift to the world. We will miss her presence, but her creative legacy will endure as a genuine testament to her heritage.

In loving memory,

Laurie G. Ahner

For further inquiries: or 314-409-6057 (call/text). Visit to explore Mary’s full collection.

Mama Picking Up Baby Efrin”, 2001. Watercolor on Arches paper, 4 x 5-1/4 inches. This poignant work is a testament to Mary’s tender and powerful storytelling through art. It showcases her unique ability to convey deep emotions and narratives in her paintings.
“Going Home,” Circa the late 1990s. Watercolor and acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 inches.
“Untitled” (Incarcerated Children). Watercolor and acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 inches.

Click here to see more art by Mary Whitfield