Renowned painter/printmaker Jacob Lawrence was the first African American to be represented by a major commercial gallery, and the first to receive prolonged mainstream recognition in the United States. He rose to fame in 1941 when his series of paintings, “The Migration of the Negro,” was exhibited in New York.
From 1941 until 1953, Lawrence was a frequent exhibitor at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in New York, and throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, he was a regular contributor at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Selections of Lawrence’s work are on display in the Arthur Ross Gallery exhibit “Jacob Lawrence and the Urban Experience: Selected Prints, 1963-2000,” which opens Oct. 17.
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917, Lawrence spent part of his youth in Philadelphia before moving to Harlem at age 13.
His earliest surviving paintings, from the mid 1930s, are biting satirical portraits of life in Harlem during the Great Depression. Much of his work addresses the historic struggle of African Americans. He has described his paints/prints as depicting “the happiness, tragedies, and the sorrows of mankind as realized in the teeming black ghetto.” He has completed series on Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture and abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
Lawrence passed away in June of 2000, and was actively painting up until his death. Throughout his life, he received the National Medal of Arts and 18 honorary doctorates from universities such as Harvard, Yale, NYU and Howard University. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was the first visual artist to receive the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest honor.
The Gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 215-898-2083 or visit www.upenn.edu/ARG. Exhibit is on display through Dec. 24.
Originally published on October 15, 2009