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The Phillips Collection showcases Jacob Lawrence's 'Struggle...From the History of the American People'
Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 1: … Is Life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?, 1955-56. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Phillips Collection opened an exhibition of works by preeminent artist Jacob Lawrence. Produced between 1954 and 1956, Struggle … From the History of the American People portrays scenes from American history, chronicling events from the Revolutionary War through the great westward expansion of 1817. The Phillips is displaying 12 panels from the series, on loan from the Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross collection, in Jacob Lawrence: Struggle … From the History of the American People. The exhibition runs January 10 through August 9, 2015.

In 1954—a decade after completing his epic masterwork The Migration Series—Lawrence conceived of a new 60-panel series dedicated to telling the history of the American people. In his narrative, black freedmen, slaves, women, and Native Americans are the focal points in scenes of conflict and movement, accompanied by captions quoting such historical figures as Patrick Henry, James Madison, Tecumseh, and Henry Clay. The series—which marks the artist’s last historical narrative of such scale and scope—built on the artist’s earlier multi-panel cycles exploring the lives of noted historical figures including Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown; but Lawrence’s approach to the Struggle series demonstrated his desire to broaden his concerns beyond the African American experience to “a larger concern [for] an expression of humanity and of America.”

Lawrence originally intended Struggle … From the History of the American People to be published as a book; however, after completing the first 30 paintings and exhibiting them at the Alan Gallery in 1956 and 1958, he never completed the rest of the series. In 1959, a private collector purchased all 30 panels and proceeded to sell them individually over the next decades, a dispersal that left Struggle largely understudied. Displaying 12 of the 30 panels, this exhibition presents a rare glimpse into this important though long overlooked series while considering the power and meaning of Lawrence’s integrationist view of America during the height of the civil rights movement.

“The Phillips Collection has a proud history of presenting and studying Lawrence’s celebrated art and life; therefore we are especially pleased to shed light on the artist’s extraordinary achievement in the Struggle series,” says curator Elsa Smithgall. “Striking in both content and form, these paintings represent a turning point in Lawrence’s career at mid-century.”

The installation of Lawrence’s Struggle series coincides with the museum’s fundraising efforts surrounding plans to develop a robust Jacob Lawrence microsite. This site will engage the public and scholars alike by chronicling the powerful history and contemporary context of migration through the lens of Lawrence’s epic masterwork The Migration Series. The campaign has raised more than $100,000 toward the development of the microsite, which is scheduled to be unveiled in June 2015 in advance of a major exhibition, People on the Move: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series, opening at the Phillips September 2016. The exhibition is part of a co-organized project with the Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture that reunites the 60 Migration Series panels, on display at the Museum of Modern Art from April 3 through September 7, 2015.

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