Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle features the series of paintings Struggle . . . From the History of the American People (1954–56) by the iconic American modernist. The exhibition will reunite the multi-paneled work for the first time in more than half a century.
One of the greatest narrative artists of the twentieth century, Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) painted his Struggle series to show how women and people of color helped shape the founding of our nation. Originally conceived as a series of sixty paintings, spanning subjects from the American Revolution to World War I, Struggle was intended to depict, in the artist’s words, “the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy.” Lawrence planned to publish his ambitious project in book form. In the end, he completed thirty panels representing historical moments from 1775 through 1817—from Patrick Henry to Westward Expansion. The 12- x 16-inch panels that comprise Struggle feature the words and actions of not only early American politicians but also of enslaved people, women, and Native Americans to address the diverse but mutually linked fortunes of all American constituencies engaged in the struggle. Taken as a whole, this remarkable series of paintings interprets and expresses the democratic debates that defined early America and still resonate today.
Alongside Lawrence’s paintings, the exhibition presents the work of contemporary artists Hank Willis Thomas, Derrick Adams, and Bethany Collins.
This exhibition has been organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The local presentation of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is made possible by Vulcan Materials, with additional support provided by the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the City of Birmingham.
Image credit: is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? —Patrick Henry, 1775, Panel 1, 1955, Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.