Skip to Main Content

Black Studies: Jacob Lawrence

A guide to our history, our present, our future, solely for our wellbeing.

Location - (In storage since the Barn fire)

Location - (In storage since the Barn fire)


Jacob Lawrence

American, 1917-2000


Forest Creature




10 x 13 1/4

edition 27/28


Fish Market




10 x 13 3/4

edition 23/25


Jacob Lawrence is most widely known for the Migration of the Negro, an epic narrative series of sixty paintings that he completed in 1941 at the age of twenty-four.  The series, which was painted in bright tempera paints on small hardboard panels — all of which are accompanied by captions — depicts the flight of millions of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North during and after the first World War. The series is a unique blend of sensibilities, part mural painting, part social realism, and part modernist abstraction. In an unusual response to the institutional demand for the work, Lawrence agreed to a joint purchase by the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art, which organized an extensive national tour. 

Lawrence was the first African American artist to be represented by a major commercial gallery and the first to receive sustained mainstream recognition in the United States. From 1941 until 1953, he exhibited regularly at Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery, New York, and throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, when many other African American artists were denied professional consideration, he was a regular participant in annual exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Today, his work is represented in almost two hundred museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Writing in the catalogue for Lawrence's retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Art Museum in 1974, the art historian Milton C. Brown noted: "Perhaps no other artist of our time has hewn so closely, despite external conditions and personal esthetic evolution, to his original inspiration and principles. There is something monolithic about Jacob Lawrence and his work, a hard core of undeviating seriousness and commitment to both social and Black consciousness.… He has at the same time continued to insist on the larger human struggle for freedom and social justice in all the world and for all people." 

Text from The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation

Jacob Lawrence, 1917-2000