The exciting news of the Terra Foundation for American Art’s recent acquisition of a 1942 masterpiece by Jacob Lawrence, Bar-b-que (1942), has me reflecting once again on the extraordinary achievement of this artist whom writer Claude McKay called “a peerless delineator of the Harlem scenes and types.” The Terra now has yet another gem among its holdings as this work by Lawrence most certainly is. When you consider that Lawrence painted it just one year after his groundbreaking The Migration Series, of which the Phillips owns half, you can see just how fast that train was moving with the young, aspiring twenty-four year-old artist at its helm. With its jazz-like syncopated rhythms flowing through the complex multi-storied composition, Lawrence captures in Bar-b-que a characteristic moment in the leisure life of the working class Harlem community with which he so closely identified.
Seeing Terra’s latest acquisition by Lawrence also triggered a connection with one of our own Stuart Davis paintings, Corner Café (1930), in which Davis evokes the vitality of Parisian life in the 1930s through alternating rhythmic patterns, calligraphic signs, and bold color. The connection is no accident as Lawrence came to know Davis personally through their shared role as artists on Edith Halpert’s roster for the Downtown Gallery.
Elsa Smithgall, Curator