"AMONG THE MOST IMPASSIONED VISUAL CHRONICLERS OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE": FIRST EDITION OF JACOB LAWRENCE: THE FREDERICK DOUGLASS AND HARRIET TUBMAN SERIES OF 1938-40, INSCRIBED BY JACOB LAWRENCE
(LAWRENCE, JACOB) WHEAT, Ellen Harkins. Jacob Lawrence: The Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman Series of 1938-40. Hampton, VA: Hampton University Museum, (1991). Large square quarto (9 by 10 inches), original pictorial wrappers.
First edition of the first volume to unite color plates of all 63 paintings in Jacob Lawrence's 1930s series on Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman—"unique in Lawrence's body of work"—-a distinctive copy inscribed by him on the title page beneath his image, "To J— T.— M— Jacob Lawrence—8/31/92," containing photographic frontispiece, 63 splendid color illustrations, in-text black-and-white illustrations, in original pictorial wrappers.
"One of the best-known artists of his time," Lawrence was "one of America's leading modern figurative painters and, from the beginning of his career in the 1930s, among the most impassioned visual chroniclers of the African American experience… [combining] a finely-honed Cubist-inflected painting style, a gift for vivid storytelling and a social consciousness shaped by his memories of growing up in Harlem… As a teenager in the 1930s Lawrence would walk the 50-odd blocks from the apartment he shared with his mother in Harlem to study early Italian Renaissance paintings" at New York's Metropolitan Museum. He was 31 when "he completed 32 paintings devoted to the life of Frederick Douglass, and in the next year a series of 31 more illustrating the life of Harriet Tubman." In a 1996 interview, he noted: "It was very important that the community in Harlem was supportive.. people respected the subjects I was doing" (New York Times). This handsome volume, which brings together the Douglass/Tubman series in book form for the first time, features text by preeminent art historian Ellen Harkins Wheat, who notes that these paintings "are unique in Lawrence's body of work… quite different from the rest of his work, [they] form a pair thematically and visually… his boldly expressive style projects a compelling portrayal of the universal human story."
Lawrence, who died in 2000, "was a meticulous and systematic craftsman… his painting technique was spare, and his ideas complex. The same was true of his artistic credo. 'I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced,' he once said. 'The things I have experienced extend into my national, racial and class group. So I paint the American scene'" In 2020 he became the subject of a landmark retrospective at the Met. "Artists have always doubled as historians… Lawrence's work will come to be seen as a juggernaut among American historical documents" (New York Times). With foreword by William R. Harvey, President of Hampton University; preface by Jeanne Zeidler, Director, Hampton University Museum. Introduction and text by Ellen Harkins Wheat. Issued simultaneously in wrappers (this copy) and cloth.
A fine inscribed copy.