18. In all your intercourse with
the natives, treat them in the
most friendly and conciliatory
manner which their own conduct
will admit… –Jefferson to Lewis
& Clark, 1803, 1956
Egg tempera on hardboard
16 x 12 inches
Signed and dated lower center
Jacob Lawrence endured abandonment by his father and foster care before finally settling in Harlem. After dropping out of school, he took evening art classes and found a mentor in artist Charles Alston, who introduced Lawrence to major figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Lawrence was just 23 years old when he produced his epic series “The Migration of the American Negro,” 1940–41. The 60-panel narrative, depicting the move of Southern blacks to the North after World War I, put Lawrence on the national stage. When he joined the Coast Guard in 1943 he was the most celebrated African American artist in the country. After the war Jacob Lawrence was hospitalized for what was described as a nervous disorder. When he resumed his work, it assumed a more frenetic, staccato style.
The present work is from a proposed series of 60 paintings providing a “pictorial history of the United States” depicting “the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy” from the Revolution to the 20th century. Lawrence would only complete half of the panels, representing the Revolution, the Constitution, and the Western Migration, which were exhibited in 1956 and 1958 under the title Struggle… From the History of the American People.The series highlights America’s tumultuous and violent past and relates to the civil rights movement occurring at the time Lawrence was painting it. This panel exhibits Lawrence’s mastery of composition and his boldness in selecting subject matter.