Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series (1940–41), a sequence of 60 paintings, depicts the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II—a development that had received little previous public attention.
Lawrence spent months distilling the subject into captions and preliminary drawings and preparing 60 boards with the help of his wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight. He created the paintings in tempera, a water-base paint that dries rapidly. To keep the colors consistent, Lawrence applied one hue at a time to every painting where it was to appear, requiring him to plan all 60 paintings in detail at once.
Within months of its making, the series entered the collections of The Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Memorial Gallery (today The Phillips Collection), with each institution acquiring half of the panels. Lawrence’s work is now an icon in both collections, a landmark in the history of modern art, and a key example of the way that history painting was radically reimagined in the modern era.
The Great Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence (HUM225)