Egg tempera on board
9 x 12 inches
Signed and dated on the lower right
During the 1950s, Jacob Lawrence experimented with a new body of work that explored the theme of performance. As Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins states “The paintings on the theme of performance are highly decorative and more than any prior group display Lawrence’s mode of abstraction with a heightened sense of emotionalism that makes for riveting and beautifully unsettling imagery. These works were produced from his memories of performances at the Apollo Theater on Harlem’s 125th Street.” (Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins, “The Critical Context of Jacob Lawrence’s Early Works, 1938-1952,” in Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001], p. 131)
Nativity may depict a dramatic, or musical performance of the biblical story, with its dramatic depiction of light and shadows cast by the figures and animals. Arranged in a stage-like setting, the holy family is surrounded by a group of blue chickens in a wooden manger, which are guarded by three oversized roosters, perhaps a reference to the three wise men. The exaggerated points of the roosters’ combs evoke the familiar crown on the Statue of Liberty, suggesting the promise of hope in the dawn of the civil rights movement.