Lawrence, Jacob

Lawrence, Jacob

(Jacob Armstead Lawrence), 1917–2000, American painter, b. Atlantic City, N.J. One of the most important African-American artists of the late 20th cent., Lawrence focused on social and historical themes, depicted in colorfully angular, simplified, expressive, and richly decorative figurative effects, and often detailing the African-American experience. He executed many cycles of paintings, often narrative, including Harriet Tubman (1939–40), The Migration Series (completed 1941, Museum of Modern Art and Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.), Coast Guard (1943–45), Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56), and Builders, on which he worked for parts of the last 50 years of his life. His War series and Tombstones are in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City. Also known for the vivid prints he began producing in 1963 and his monumental mosaic mural (designed 1997, installed 2001) for the New York subway system, Lawrence taught at Black Mountain College, the Univ. of Washington School of Art, several other colleges, and a number of major New York City art schools. In 1941 he married Gwendolyn Knight, 1913–2005, an American painter and sculptor, b. Bridgetown, Barbados.


See P. T. Nesbett and M. DuBois, The Complete Jacob Lawrence (2000); P. T. Nesbett, Jacob Lawrence: The Complete Prints (1963–2000) (2001); P. Hills, Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence (2010); L. Dickerman and E. Smithgall, Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series (museum catalog, 2015); biography by E. H. Wheat (1986, repr. 1990).

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Lawrence, Jacob (Armstead)

(1917–  ) painter; born in Atlantic City, N.J. He studied under Charles Alston at the Art Workshop, Harlem, N.Y. (1932–39), and at the Harlem Art Center and the American Artists School, New York (1937–39). Considered a leading black artist, he worked in gouache, an opaque water color, and tempera, a mixture of pigment and a binder. He lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is famous for the distinctive flat surfaces of his narrative paintings depicting social problems, as in The Migration of the Negro (1940–41), and Struggle: From the History of the American People (1955).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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