Based on diligent research and inspired by Harlem Renaissance artists Augusta Savage and Charles Alston, Jacob Lawrence illustrated African American history through colorful narrative paintings. His subjects included series on prominent figures in the struggle for black liberation, such as Harriet Tubman; his “The Great Migration” (1940-41) chronicled the Depression-era flight of African Americans from the impoverished rural south to northern cities.
Comprising 60 tempera works executed simultaneously with unifying color schemes and visual motifs, it depicted heart-wrenching everyday scenes. New York Times critic Holland Cotter once described Lawrence’s oeuvre as having a “sinewy moral texture…that is in the business of neither easy uplift nor single-minded protest.”
Lawrence adopted his characteristic simple forms and abstract elements from African art, linking that aesthetic tradition to present-day black identity.
American, 1917–2000, Atlantic City, New Jersey