Speed Art Museum
© John Nation 1998
Jacob Lawrence: The Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman Series of 1938-40
The Speed Art Museum is pleased to announce the opening of an exhibition on February 6, 2001 celebrating the life and work of Jacob Lawrence, one of the foremost American painters of the twentieth century, an African-American artist and teacher, who died last June at the age of 82. (left: Harriet Tubman series No. 10, 1939-40, Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard, Hampton University Art Museum, Hampton, Virginia)
The Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman series of 1938-40 are among Lawrence's greatest achievements as a painter. Including 32 and 31 images, respectively, the narratives document the struggles and heroic achievements of these two nineteenth-century Abolitionists. Executed in tempera, the images are remarkable in their simplicity, vivid color, boldly expressive style, and use of the series format to convey narrative content. (right: Harriet Tubman series No. 4, 1939-40, Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard, Hampton University Art Museum, Hampton, Virginia)
Ellen Harkins Wheat, author of the catalog Jacob Lawrence: The Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman Series of 1938-40, describes the artist's work in this way. "At times powerfully exquisite, at other times raw, even awkward, their rough magic and expressive strength speak to us through time of the often-neglected episodes of black American history and the black experience." In Lawrence's own words: "If at times my productions do not express the conventionally beautiful, there is always an effort to express the universal beauty of man's continuous struggle to lift his social position and to add dimension to his spiritual being." (left: Frederick Douglass series No. 21, 1938-39, Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard, Hampton University Art Museum, Hampton, Virginia)
The images include captions written by the artist, who thoroughly researched the two legendary figures before beginning work on the series.
Including these series, Lawrence created five historical sequences overall; the other three are Toussaint L'Ouverture, 1937-38; The Migration of the Negro, 1940-41; and John Brown, 1941. Throughout his career, Lawrence continued to focus on themes of human strife and determination. Although the Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman series were executed early in Lawrence's artistic development, the images remained dear to the artist throughout his lifetime and embody some of his strongest work. (right: Frederick Douglass series No. 13, 1938-39, Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard, Hampton University Art Museum, Hampton, Virginia)
The exhibition is organized by the Hampton University Art Museum, the institution that owns the works. A catalog will be available for purchase in the museum shop.
See a related article: Jacob Lawrence--Aesop's Fables (4/11/99)
Read more about the Speed Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine
Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.
For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/6/11
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