Born in 1917, Lawrence came to Harlem in 1930. In 1935 he began creating images of his community, using commercial poster paints and lightweight brown paper. Many portrayed working class life, including unvarnished observations of poverty and crime.
Lawrence first achieved national prominence when he created a 60-panel series of narrative paintings called The Migration of the Negro (now known simply as The Migration Series), which detailed the movement of African Americans from the rural south to the industrial north. The Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art each purchased half of the series and sent it on an extended national tour for the duration of World War II, making him the most celebrated African American artist in the country at the time.
“Bar-b-que is among Lawrence’s first paintings to combine multiple stories into one composition,” explained Terra Foundation Vice President of Collections and Curatorial Affairs Elizabeth Hutton Turner. “It complements important works from the Terra Foundation’s collection by artists associated with Lawrence, such as Stuart Davis, John Marin, and Charles Sheeler, all of whom exhibited alongside Lawrence at New York’s Downtown Gallery throughout the 1940s.”
Archibald J. Motley Jr.‘s Between Acts of 1935 is an important addition to the American Scene paintings from the 1930s in the Terra Foundation’s collection. Known for his colorful portrayals of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the African American artist often evoked musical entertainment associated with black culture: jazz and the blues. In Between Acts he created one of the era’s most provocative images: a quiet moment behind the scenes in a vaudeville theater.
In contrast, Reginald Marsh’s Pip and Flip of 1932 pictures the boisterous chaos of New York’s Coney Island from the viewpoint of entertainment consumers.In the past, Motley’s racial identity and experience influenced interpretation of his work, but recent scholarship emphasizes his contribution to American Scene painting in his depictions of one of the nation’s largest black urban communities. Motley’s representation of urban entertainment in Between Acts differs dramatically from the lyrical cityscape seen in Les Invalides, Paris by expatriate African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, also in the collection.
The acquisition of the 1931 painting Politics by John Storrs enhances the Terra Foundation’s collection of modernist art from the early twentieth century and adds to its holdings of works produced in Chicago. Politics joins diverse recent acquisitions from the late 1920s and 1930s, including Illinois Central of 1927 by George Josimovich; and John Marin’s Sailboat, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Skyline of 1934.
In this work, Storrs used a starkly limited palette of white, red, gray, and black to depict a human face in profile, at the far left. As its title indicates, the image is a condemnation of the dangerous international politics through which Fascists and Nazis began to gain power in Europe in the 1930s.
Known for his nonobjective sculptures influenced by architectural forms, Storrs spent most of his career in France, where he studied with Auguste Rodin. Oil paintings by Storrs are rare, making Politics and its preliminary sketch (Sketch for Politics, 2008.2) important additions to the collection.
With its acquisition of Lily Martin Spencer‘s Home of the Red, White, and Blue of about 1867, the Terra Foundation enhances its rich holdings in nineteenth-century genre painting and adds to the many works in the collection by women. The painting joins a group of works thematically related to the Civil War, including Frederic E. Church’s Our Banner in the Sky, Winslow Homer’s On Guard, and William Sydney Mount’s Fruit Piece: Apples on Tin Cups.
Spencer’s scene of a family picnic combines national politics with the artist’s favorite theme, the domestic gathering. Here, generations of family members are joined by several obvious outsiders in a metaphor for the gravely fractured nation at its crucial moment of reunification, symbolized by the tattered flag under repair in the foreground.
Now considered one of the leading genre painters of the antebellum period, Spencer created narrative works in which women are uniquely central. Since her rediscovery beginning in 1974, scholars and art enthusiasts have come to value Spencer’s images for the important insights they offer into middle-class domesticity, the cultural politics of gender roles, and the turbulent state of the American nation in the mid-nineteenth century.
Home of the Red, White, and Blue is featured in the exhibition Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North, co-organized by the Terra Foundation and The Newberry, on view Sept. 27–Mar. 4, 2014.