artist Jacob Lawrence
Artist Jacob Lawrence with Panel 26 and Panel 27 from Struggle Series. © Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

The Peabody Essex Museum (pem.org) has organized the first exhibition to examine “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” the series of paintings created by the African American artist Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000).

This new project, titled “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle,” will reunite — for the first time in more than 60 years — 25 of his 30 panels depicting pivotal moments in early American history. (Five panels remain unlocated.) All emphasize the contributions that blacks, Native Americans, and women made in shaping America’s identity.

Jacob Lawrence paintings
Jacob Lawrence, Panel 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. From Struggle Series, 1954–56. Egg tempera on hardboard. Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

Created during the modern civil rights era, Lawrence’s thirty intimate panels interpret pivotal moments in the American Revolution and the early decades of the republic between 1770 and 1817 and, as he wrote, “depict the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy.”

Jacob Lawrence paintings
Jacob Lawrence, Panel 19. Thousands of American citizens have been torn from their country and from everything dear to them: they have been dragged on board ships of war of a foreign nation. – Madison, 1 June 1812, 1956. From Struggle Series, 1954–56. Egg tempera on hardboard. Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Stephen Petegorsky.

The panels will be complemented by contemporary works made by Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas.

Jacob Lawrence paintings
Jacob Lawrence, Panel 1. …Is Life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? – Patrick Henry, 1775, 1955. From Struggle Series, 1954–56. Egg tempera on hardboard. Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

This show will travel onward to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), Birmingham Museum of Art (Alabama), Seattle Art Museum, and Phillips Collection (Washington, DC)

Jacob Lawrence paintings
Jacob Lawrence, Panel 22. Trappers, 1956. From Struggle Series, 1954–56. Egg tempera on hardboard. Collection of Robert Gober and Donald Moffett. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

“Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, Massachusetts) through April 26, 2020.


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