Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 1

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

Struggle_Panel 1

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 1: Is Life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?, 1955-56. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“…is life so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” – Patrick Henry, 1775

This panel shows the tenacious reaction to Patrick Henry’s 1775 call to arms. Given at the Virginia Convention in Richmond, VA, Henry’s words created such a fervor among the audience that George Mason stated, “Every word he says not only engages, but commands the attention and your actions are no longer your own when he addresses them.”

The forcefulness of a community coming together to fight a common injustice is something Lawrence saw as applicable not only in the 18th century, but also during his lifetime. The year of this panel’s production saw many uprisings in the fight for civil rights, including the December beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. Tremendous tension was building as many southern states combatted the Supreme Court’s rulings for integration laws on multiple occasions, including the passage of Brown II, which stated that school integration must most forward “with all deliberate speed.” This unease spiraled in many communities and resulted in the murders of two Civil Rights activists, Reverend George W. Lee and Lamar Smith, as well as the murder of teenager Emmett Till for whistling at a white woman in Money, MS. Lawrence was no doubt aware of these tragedies and the massive amount of support they provoked. This panel is not only a call to arms for the Revolutionary War, but also aims to arouse the same fierce response to contemporary events. Using the upraised fists that would later become a symbol of the Black Panther party, Lawrence guides the viewer’s eye through the crowd before settling on the ominous upper right corner of the panel. Devoid of anything except for a few blood splatters, the future of the struggle is left in a state of ambiguity.

Madeline Bartel

D-Day and Monet: Sacrifice and Art

What do you think of when you think of the beaches of Normandy (which you might be thinking a lot about on Saturday, June 6)? Bravery? Sacrifice? Freedom? Of course. In the 71 years since the allied invasion of Normandy, these beaches have become symbols of all these things and more. But what about ambience? Light? Color palette? Probably less so. While the sacrifice of brave soldiers will always remain deeply engrained in the heart of Normandy, this landscape is also symbolic of another important group that thrived less than 50 years before: the Impressionists.


Claude Monet, Val-Saint-Nicolas, near Dieppe (Morning), 1897. Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. Acquired 1959, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Long before the cliffs and beaches of Normandy were chosen for their strategic military location, they were singled out by Impressionist artists of the late 19th-century for their aesthetic value. Artists such as Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard chose to paint the area of Normandy for its singular beauty and unique artistic attributes. Monet spent 40 years of his life painting scenes of the Normandy coast from Honfleur to Dieppe and it was a piece in this series that Duncan Phillips chose for his collection. Phillips believed Val-Saint-Nicolas near Dieppe (morning) to be one of the most beautiful works by Monet he had seen, as well as an excellent representation of the artist’s technique. Monet often chose scenes that would illicit an emotional response from his viewer. As you can see, the light in the painting reflects off the carefully chosen color palette to reflect the morning ambience as the sun rises over the cliffs of the Val-Saint-Nicolas, less than 200 km from the Allied landings 47 years later.

Personally, I find the dual significance of this location to be fascinating. How could an area once so renowned for its beauty and tranquility become a symbol of ultimate sacrifice? Of course the real answer is tactics—the Allies weren’t concerned with its aesthetic past when evaluating its military value—but it still makes you wonder. So next time you look at a famous place or monument, consider it from another perspective. The beaches of Normandy prove that even the most somber place, can also be the most beautiful.

Allyson Hitte, Marketing & Communications Intern

American Moments Portraits: Puppies, People, and Ponies

One Line Monday (6-1)_Mike Guy

“One Line Monday (6-1)” by Mike Guy

Quick! If you had to create a portrait of one person right now, who would it be? A family member? Yourself? Your pet?

We have all of the necessary supplies to create a portrait at a station in American Moments: Photographs from The Phillips Collection, inspired by a gallery in the exhibition that features portraits of artists, including notable painters, photographers, and musicians. To help us kick off the in-gallery activity, we asked the many artists on staff here at the Phillips to get creative with their submissions. Join us for opening weekend June 6 & 7 to create your own! Share it on social media with #AmericanMoments and you might see your submission featured here on The Experiment Station.


“Horse” by Anna

Aunt Nor - Cancer Won_Meghan Schindler

“Aunt Nor – Cancer Won” by Museum Supervisor Meghan Schindler

Miss B_Amy Wike

“Miss B” by Marketing Manager Amy Wike


“Steinbeck” by Anonymous