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Paintings by Lawrence and Park Enter Museums of San Francisco Collection
David Park, Two Bathers, 1958. Oil on canvas.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have acquired two major paintings for the American galleries at the de Young Museum: Migration (1947) an early work by Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), one of America’s most important Social Realist artists, and Two Bathers (1958) by David Park (1911–1960), the pioneering Bay Area Figurative artist. A stunningly beautiful and conceptually powerful image in its own right, Migration is of particular art historical importance because of its thematic and stylistic ties to Lawrence’s 1941 Migration Series, one of the most significant narratives of the African American experience in the history of art. Park’s enigmatic painting augments the Museums’ strong holdings of works by Park and his colleagues, Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff. “The Museums’ aim is to acquire the very best and most representative examples for each particular collecting area. By collecting the very best, the Museums fill gaps in the collection and also enhance current strengths,” says John E. Buchanan, Jr., director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

A Jacob Lawrence Masterpiece for the American Art Collection
Lawrence earned national recognition for his compelling visual narratives of the African American experience in America. He was only twenty-three when he created a narrative cycle of paintings titled Migration of the Negro (1941). The series portrays the northward exodus of nearly two million African Americans in search of a better life during the period encompassed by the First and Second World Wars. Fleeing an oppressive sharecropper system, racially-motivated violence, and “Jim Crow” segregation and discrimination in the South, African Americans began moving in search of higher-paying jobs in the urban centers of the Midwest, Northeast, and West.

The Fine Arts Museums’ Migration, which reprises Lawrence’s most famous theme, was one of ten paintings commissioned by photographer Walker Evans for publication in his 1948 Fortune magazine article entitled, “In the Heart of the Black Belt.” The composition depicts a group of men, women, and children, surrounded by their worldly possessions, waiting in a southern railway station for a train to take them north. The anonymity of these largely faceless figures emphasizes their shared experience and unity of purpose in seeking a better life. This universal aspiration—embodied by the masses of Americans who joined the Great Migration with mixed emotions of fear and hope—continues to have resonance and relevance in the context of America’s ongoing immigrant heritage.

David Park: Pioneering Bay Area Figurative Artist
Park began teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in 1944, at the height of the Bay Area Abstract Expressionist movement. In 1949, Park famously took all his nonobjective paintings to the Berkeley city dump. This radical gesture, along with Park’s exhibition of the representational work Kids on Bikes (1950) at the San Francisco Art Association’s Annual in 1951, came to symbolize the schism between the Bay Area’s Abstract Expressionist and Figurative movements.

Rather than representing a complete break with his earlier abstract work, Park’s figurative subjects infused his work with a new humanism while retaining the painterly qualities and emotional intensity of Abstract Expressionism. Drawing inspiration from mythological and biblical precedents, Park’s bather subjects offer a timeless meditation on the relationship of human beings to nature.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco | Jacob Lawrence | David Park |

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