Barkley L. Hendricks in his home in New London, Conn., in 2007, with “Frog” (1976). Credit C.M. Glover for The New York Times

Barkley L. Hendricks in his home in New London, Conn., in 2007, with “Frog” (1976). Credit C.M. Glover for The New York Times

Barkley L. Hendricks, a painter who gave new representation to ordinary black men and women, memorializing them in portraits that echoed the grand manner of the old masters, died on Tuesday in New London, Conn. He was 72.

His wife, Susan, said that the cause was a cerebral hemorrhage.

While touring Europe as an undergraduate art student in the mid-1960s, Mr. Hendricks fell in love with the portrait style of artists like van Dyck and Velázquez. His immersion in the Western canon, however, left him troubled. In his visits to the museums and churches of Britain, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, he saw virtually no black subjects. His own race was, in effect, a void in Western art.

As the Black Power movement unfolded around him, he set about correcting the balance, in life-size portraits of friends, relatives and strangers encountered on the street that communicated a new assertiveness and pride among black Americans.

Lawdy Mama,” one of his first portraits, showed a young woman with an enormous Afro looking impassively at the viewer. Although her dress was modern, the arched top of the canvas and background in gold leaf suggested a Byzantine icon.