Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000)

Jacob Lawrence, Harlem Street Scene, 1959, tempera on board, 16 x 11 7/8 inches

Jacob Lawrence is one of the most widely acclaimed artists in the United States.  Early in his career he gained acceptance from the mainstream art world and has sustained it ever since.  On the other hand, blocked from attending most art schools due to his race, he was trained as an artist in the black community in Harlem, New York.  And it’s the black community that is the primary focus of his work.

“I am part of the black community, so I am the black community speaking,” Lawrence said.

Using his unique style of painting, Lawrence tells the many stories of the African American experience.  The Great Migration, the slave revolt on the Amistad, life in Harlem, Toussaint L’Overture, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman are some of the subjects he explores.

Leslie King-Hammond says Lawrence’s impact on the art world is greater than most people realize.  “Through his innovative figurative abstractions that mirrored the vast reservoir of culture and history of the jazz-depression-migration-era culture as it was expressed in Harlem,” she said, “Lawrence gave visual affirmation and reality to a thoroughly authentic modernist style.”

Lawrence’s work is in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland; Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Vatican Museum, Vatican City, Italy; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Howard University Gallery, Washington, DC; among others.