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Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000)


1 of 6

Christmas in Harlem, 1937
tempera on paper
16" x 13" sheet size /  13 3/4" x 9 3/8" sight size
signed and dated
 

The Butcher Shop, 1938

tempera on paper

19 x 25 inches (sheet size)

18 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches (sight size), signed and dated

Rain, 1938
gouache on board
28 1/8" x 20 1/16" sheet size
24 3/8" x 18 3/8" sight size, signed and dated
 

Untitled (Street Scene), 1958
ink on paper
22 1/2" x 30 1/2", signed and dated

Meat Market, 1964
tempera and gouache on paper
30 1/4" x 22 3/4", signed and dated

Carnival, 1967
black ink and graphite on paper
17 5/8" x 12 7/8", signed and dated


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Artist Information

“I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced. The things I have experienced extend into my national, racial and class group. So I paint the American scene.”[1]

Jacob Armstead Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917. When he was seven, his parents separated, and Lawrence found himself in foster care. In 1930, Lawrence’s mother moved her children to Harlem, where Lawrence was surrounded by luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance. He took arts and crafts classes after school with Charles Alston at the Utopia Children’s House, heard weekly sermons from Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and attended the Harlem Art Workshop run by Augusta Savage. Alston and Savage encouraged Lawrence in his artistic studies, despite the fact that Lawrence had to drop out of high school in 1934, when his mother lost her job in the midst of the Great Depression. After six months in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Lawrence received a scholarship in 1937 to attend the American Artists School, run by the John Reed Club in Harlem. In 1938, with help from Savage, Lawrence joined the easel division of the WPA, submitting paintings to them at regular intervals.

Inspired by African art, the history of African Americans in the United States, and life in Harlem, Lawrence developed a distinctive style of narrative painting featuring a flattened picture plane and boldly colored figures rendered almost exclusively in casein tempera on board. In 1938, he completed his first narrative suite, The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, consisting of forty-one paintings about the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) inspired by Haiti, a play by W.E.B. DuBois, which Lawrence had seen in 1936. He continued to work in series throughout his career, completing works on the lives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, as well as thematic series about American history, warfare, and games. While all of these works were met with acclaim, his most celebrated series was The Migration of the Negro (later renamed The Migration Series), completed in 1941 and purchased by the Phillips Collection (which owns the odd-numbered panels) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (which has the even-numbered ones). The year he completed the Migration series, Lawrence also joined the roster of artists at Edith Halpert’s prestigious Downtown Gallery. Halpert, who represented Ben Shahn, Charles Sheeler, and John Marin, had contacted Lawrence at the suggestion of Alain Locke, and early champion of Lawrence’s work.

Lawrence gained widespread recognition in 1944, when MoMA granted him a solo exhibition. Titled Paintings by Jacob Lawrence: Migration of the Negro and Works Made in U.S. Coast Guard, the exhibition included works Lawrence had done while serving on the USS Sea Cloud, the US navy’s first racially integrated ship. The following year, his Life of John Brown series was the subject of a national traveling exhibition sponsored by the American Federation of arts. As with his earlier series, John Brown was well received, and Lawrence’s reputation grew throughout the 1940s. In 1947, Walker Evans commissioned him to do a series on African American life in the south for Fortune Magazine, and in 1948, Lawrence was commissioned to illustrate One-Way Ticket, a collection of poems by Langston Hughes.

A prolific painter throughout his extended career, Lawrence was also a teacher and an activist. In 1946, Josef Albers invited Lawrence to teach summer classes at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina. Although this experience was a somewhat inauspicious beginning (Albers rented an entire car of the train to protect Lawrence from the Jim Crow laws concerning interstate transportation, and once in Asheville, Lawrence never set foot off campus), Lawrence went on to teach at the New School, the Art Students League, and the University of Washington, where he was a full professor from 1970 until his retirement in 1983. In 1963, he became president of the artists’ committee for the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC); in 1968 he participated in the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art symposium The Black Artist in America; and in 1976, he co-founded (with Romare Bearden and Willem de Kooning, and Bill Caldwell) the Rainbow Art Foundation. Its mission was “to assist young printmakers in the production, exhibition, and marketing of their work,” and the foundation pledged to support “the work of artists whose art is seldom seen by the general public, including [that] of ‘indians, eskimos, asians, hispanics, and blacks [sic].’”[2]

During his lifetime, Lawrence received honorary doctorates from over fifteen colleges and universities, and he was honored with multiple other awards. In 2000, a two-volume catalogue raisonné of his work was published. Shortly after Lawrence’s death, the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation was established to serve as an educational resource on the art of Lawrence and his wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight. In 2001, Lawrence was the subject of the traveling exhibition, Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, organized by The Phillips Collection.


[1] Jacob Lawrence, quoted in Cori Sisler, “Jacob Lawrence: Among the Most Impassioned Vusual Chroniclers of the African American Experience,” Freedom Blog, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. http://freedomcenter.org/freedom-forum/index.php/2011/08/jacob-lawrence-impassioned-visual-chroniclers-african-american-experience/ (Accessed November 2012).

[2] “Timeline,” The Jacob and Gwen Knight Lawrence Virtual Resource Center, http://www.jacobandgwenlawrence.org/artandlife02.html (Accessed November 2012). Much of the information in this biography was gleaned from the “Timeline.”

 

SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY
Amistad Research Center, Aaron Douglas Collection, New Orleans, LA
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
Benedict College, Columbia, SC
Bennett College, Greensboro, NC
Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME
Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH
The Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences of West Virginia, Charleston, WV
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
DePaul University Museum, Chicago, IL
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, IN
Fisk University, Nashville, TN
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Boston, MA
George Washington Carver Museum, Tuskegee, AL
Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Hampton University, Hampton, VA
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead, NY
Howard University Art Collection, Washington, DC
Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI
Maier Museum of Art, Randolph College, Lynchburg, VA
Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Milwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee, WI
Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Museum of Modern Art, Sao Paulo, Brazil
National Academy of Design, New York, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA
Schomburg Center, New York Public Library, New York, NY
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, PA
Southern Illinois University Museum, Carbondale, IL
Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
St. Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO
Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
The Tougaloo College Economic Development Corporation, The Tougaloo College Art Collections, Tougaloo, MS
University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
University of Georgia, Athens, GA
University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
University of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Vatican Gallery of Modern Art, Vatican Museum, Rome, Italy
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Washington State Capitol Museum, Olympia, WA
Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC
Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

1938  
Jacob Lawrence, YMCA: Harlem, New York, NY, sponsored by the James Weldon Johnson Literary Guild

1939  
De Porres Interracial Center, New York, NY

1940  
Columbia University, New York. NY

1941  
Downtown Gallery, New York, NY;1943;1945;1947;1950;1953

1942  
Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, D.C.

1944  
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

1945 
Boston Institute of Modern Art, MA

1946  
Art Institute of Chicago, IL

1947  
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ

1957  
Alan Gallery, New York, NY

1960 
Brooklyn Museum, NY (Retrospective)
Jacob Lawrence, American Federation of Arts, New York, NY

1963  
Terry Dintefass Gallery, New York, NY;1965;1968;1973;1978;1983

1965  
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

1968 
Fisk Umiversity, Nashville, TN

1969  
Studio Museum in Harlem, NY

1970  
Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

1973  
State Capitol Museum, Olympia, WA

1974  
Jacob Lawrence, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, MO; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA

1976  
Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA;1978;1979;1980;1982;1985

1978  
Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
Detroit Institute of Arts

1979  
Wentz Gallery, Portland, OR
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA

1981  
Brockman Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Portsmouth Community Art Center, VA
New Visions Gallery, San Diego, CA
Reynolda House. Winston-Salem, NC

1982  
Clark Humanities Museum, Scripps College, Claremont, CA (Retrospective)
Santa Monica College, CA
Crystal Britton Gallery, Atlanta, GA

1983  
Stockton State College Art Gallery, Pomona NJ
Benedum Gallery, Morgantown, WV
Stewart Center Gallery, Purdue University, IN

1984 
Thompson Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA
Jamaica Arts Center, Jamaica, NY (Retrospective)
Portland Art Museum, OR

1986  
Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Jacob Lawrence, American Painter, Oakland Museum, New York, NY; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

1992
Jacob Lawrence: The Early Decades, Katonah Art Museum, Katonah, NY

1995
Jacob Lawrence, An Overview: Paintings from 1936-1994, Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, NY

2002
Over The Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC,; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

2015
Jacob Lawrence Migration Series, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

 

1940
Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro (1851-1940), Tanner Art Galleries, Chicago, IL; traveled to Library of Congress, Washington, DC

1943
The Twenty-Second International Exhibition of Watercolors, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

1944
American Painting of Today, City Art Museum, St. Louis, MO

1946
Paintings by Matisse, Tom Lewis, and Chester Hayes; Watercolor and Paintings by Jacob Lawrence and Willing Howard, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, CA

1952
Brooklyn Artist Biennial Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

1953
1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Sculpture, Watercolors and Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

1954
From Museum Walls…, The Alan Gallery, New York, NY
Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA

1956
First Exposition of Negro Progress, Wanamaker Building, New York, NY

1957
Struggle….From the History of the American People, The Alan Gallery, New York, NY

1958
1958 Annual Exhibition; Sculpture, Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

1959
American Sculpture and Painting: American National Exhibition in Moscow, The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Art: USA: 59, A Force, A Language, A Frontier, Coliseum, New York, NY

1964
Between the Fairs: Twenty-Five Years of American Art 1939-1964, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, American Society of African Culture, Lagos, Nigeria

1965
Herbert A. Goldstone Collection of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY

1966
Contemporary Urban Visions, Wollman Hall, New School Art Center, New School for Social Research, New York, NY

1970
Five Famous Black Artists: Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Charles White, Hale Woodruff, The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Roxbury, MA

1971
Black Artists: Two Generations, The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ

1978
New York/Chicago: WPA and the Black Artist, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY

1981
American Art: 1920-1940, New Society of Art, Berlin, Germany

1983
Celebrating Contemporary American Black Artists, Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, Hempstead, NY

1985
Hidden Heritage: Afro-American Art, 1800-1950, Bellevue Art Museum, Bellevue, Washington; Mint Museum, Charlotte, N.C.; San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX; Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Oklahoma Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK
American Art and the Great Depression: Two Sides of the Coin, Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS

1992
In Good Conscience: The Radical Tradition in Twentieth-Century American Illustration, The Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery AL

1994
Empowerment: The Art of African American Artists, Krasdale Gallery, White Plains, NY
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY

1995
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, II, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY; Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA
A Collector’s Eye: Depression-Era Paintings from the Collection of John Horton, James A. Michener Art Museum, Bucks County, PA

1996
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, III, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY

1997
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, IV, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY; Fisk University Galleries, Nashville, TN
Civil Progress: Images of Black America, Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, NY
Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, Hayward Gallery, London; Arnolfini, Bristol; Mead Gallery, University of Warwick, England; M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
This is Why We Sing: An Exhibition of African-American Art, Atrium Gallery, Morristown, NJ
Revisiting American Art: Works from the Collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY

1998 
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, V, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY; The Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

1999
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, VI, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY; Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI

2000 
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, VII, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY; Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, FL

2001
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, VIII, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY; Texas Southern University Museum, Houston, TX

2002 
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, IX, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
Raised to the Trade: Creole Building Arts of New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA

2003
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, X, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
American Identity: Figurative Painting and Sculpture, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY

2004
Embracing the Muse:  Africa and African American Art, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

2006
Building Community:  The African American Scene, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY
2006-08 Coming of Age:  American Art, 1850s to 1950s, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA; Meadows Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, England; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy
Syncopated Rhythms: 20th-Century African American Art from the George & Joyce Wein Collection, Boston University Art Gallery, Boston, MA

2008
African American Art: 200 Years, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

2009
Il Secolo del Jazz:  Arte, Cinema, Musica e Fotografia da Picasso a Basquiat (The Jazz Century:  Art, Cinema, Music and Photography from Picasso to Basquiat), Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rovereto, Italy; Museé du quai Branly, Paris, France; Centro de Cultura Contemporànea, Barcelona, Spain
Harlem Renaissance, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK
A Force for Change: African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, The Spertus Museum, Chicago, IL; Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA; Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ
Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME

2010
Different Strokes: Twentieth Century Drawings, George Adams Gallery, New York, NY

2011
Embodied: Black Identities in American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD

2012 
African American Art in the 20th Century, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Successions: Prints by African American Artists from the Jean & Robert Steele Collection, David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD
…On Paper, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

2013
INsite/INchelsea: The Inaugural Exhibition, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
Ashé to Amen: African-Americans and Biblical Imagery, Museum of Biblical Art, New York, NY; Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture; Dixon Gallery & Gardens, Memphis, TN

2014
Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
RISING UP/UPRISING: Twentieth Century African American Art, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr., Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC

2015
Represent: 200 Years of African American Art in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
America Is Hard to See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
I Like It Like This: S|2 x Drake, Sotheby's Contemporary Art Gallery, New York, NY
Collectors Legacy: Selections from the Sandra Lloyd Baccus Collection, The David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD

2017
Sputterances, Metro Pictures, New York, NY
Content into Form: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Jacob Lawrence and Black Mountain College, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville, NC
Why Draw? 500 Years of Drawings and Watercolors at Bowdoin College, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME