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"Jacob Lawrence: The Toussaint L'Ouverture Series"
2000-10-07 until 2000-12-03
Norton Museum of Art
West Palm Beach, FL, USA

The Norton Museum of Art opens a new exhibition entitled Jacob Lawrence: The Toussaint L'Ouverture Series on October 7, 2000. This exhibition features all 41 paintings from the artist's 1937 - 38 pictorial history of the Haitian Revolution, the only successful slave rebellion in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans and the Norton Museum of Art have collaborated on the organization of this show - which will only be presented in West Palm Beach. The Toussaint L'Ouverture Series is from the Aaron Douglas Collection at The Amistad Research Center.

Born in 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Jacob Lawrence was raised in Harlem where he not only witnessed the poverty and prejudice that most African-Americans faced in the early 20th century, but also the remarkable cultural, intellectual and political development known as the Harlem Renaissance. Lawrence reached maturity in the 1930s, at a time when Harlem was among the world's most dynamic centers of aesthetic and social innovation. As orators shouted their messages from nearly every street corner in Harlem, W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke were challenging and redefining the very identity of the African-American people; Langston Hughes was introducing the black experience to modernist poetry; Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway retooled jazz and African-American blues for the big band and the orchestra; and such artists as Aaron Douglas, Charles Alston, Archibald Motley, Los Mailou Jones, Romare Bearden and William H. Johnson introduced an expressive force to modern painting few had ever witnessed. It was against the backdrop of this vibrant milieu that the 20-year-old Jacob Lawrence made a dramatic debut with his Toussaint L'Ouverture Series.

During Lawrence's childhood, the story of black America was all but ignored in the schools, indeed most people believed that African-Americans had no history or at least none that merited study or perpetuation. In reaction to this bigotry, the scholar and bibliophile Arthur A. Schomburg, over a 30 year period, assembled a vast collection of books, manuscripts, prints, drawings and ephemera, all in some way describing and detailing the richness of the African-American experience. Schomburg's holdings were eventually acquired by the New York Public Library and housed in the Harlem branch, where they were repeatedly consulted during Lawrence's research of Toussaint L'Ouverture and throughout the execution of his 1937-38 series devoted to the Haitian revolutionary. Lawrence's experience with the Schomburg collection led the artist to embrace black history as a crucial theme in his work. Not only did the Toussaint L'Ouverture paintings emerge from his investigation of the Schomburg material, but so too did subsequent series devoted to Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Brown and the migration of African-Americans from the rural south to northern industrial centers.

Lawrence's 41 paintings trace more than events from the life of Toussaint L'Ouverture. The series is a rich and methodical historical analysis that cogently connects European expansionism, colonialism, plantation economies, the slave trade, Enlightenment philosophy and Napoleon's emergence in France to the establishment of a Haitian Republic. Epic in historical scope, yet rendered in human terms (and on a human scale), Lawrence conceived the Toussaint L'Ouverture Series as paintings of liberation in small increments on a daily basis. This fundamental engagement with the human quality in man keeps the Toussaint L'Ouverture Series and all of Lawrence's work from ever becoming pedantic, moralizing or condescending. Bound to the social climate of his age, with all its attendant anger and prejudice, Jacob Lawrence's uncommon contribution to the 20th century was an art that sought justice without cruelty, truth without bitterness and revealed nobility of human freedom.

General L'Ouverture collected forces at Marmelade,
and on October 9, 1794, left with 500 men to capture San Miguel.,
Gouache on paper,
27.9x48.3 cm.,
Aaron Douglas Collection,
The Amistad Research Center,
Tulane University, New Orleans

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