Opening June 2, 2020 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle (June 2–September 7, 2020, The Met Fifth Avenue, Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, Gallery 913) will present a striking and little-known series of paintings by the esteemed American modernist Jacob Lawrence titled Struggle . . . From the History of the American People (1954–56). The exhibition marks the first time in more than half a century that the powerful multi-paneled series is being reunited. The series reveals the artist’s prescient visual reckoning with the nation’s complex history through iconic and folkloric narratives.
Lawrence conceived Struggle as 60 tempera-on-board paintings, 12 by 16 inches, spanning subjects from the American Revolution to World War I. As he expressed it in a grant application, he intended to depict “the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy.” In the end, Lawrence completed 30 panels—26 of which are still exisiting today, including No. 10: Washington Crossing the Delaware, now in The Met collection—representing historical moments from 1775 through 1817. In their dynamic compositional design and vivid color scheme, the works rank among the artist’s most sophisticated, reflecting the assuredness of a mature painter and intellect.
This compelling and rarely seen body of work incorporates quotations that emphasize America’s early fight for independence and expansionism as well as the oft-overlooked contributions of women and people of color. Lawrence painted Struggle at the height of the Cold War and Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare,” when the Civil Rights movement was also nascent, and the events of this transformative period deeply informed the artist’s approach to the historical subjects. Lawrence’s more inclusive representation of the nation’s past is no less relevant today; amid ongoing issues and debates regarding race and national identity, it resonates profoundly.
Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is co-curated by Elizabeth Hutton Turner, Professor of Modern Art at the University of Virginia, and Austen Barron Bailly, former Curator of American Art at Peabody Essex Museum now Chief Curator, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, with support from Lydia Gordon, Assistant Curator at Peabody Essex Museum. The presentation at The Met is co-curated by Randall Griffey, Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Sylvia Yount, Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator in Charge of the American Wing.
The exhibition is made possible by the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation and is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. The exhibition will be featured on the Museum’s website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #MetJacobLawrence.