Did You Know? Jacob Lawrence Edition

We’re thrilled to have a brand new DC museum neighbor starting this  weekend! The National Museum of African American History and Culture officially opens its doors on Saturday, Sept. 24, and in celebration we’re highlighting the work of Jacob Lawrence, a key artist from the new Smithsonian’s permanent collection (and the star of a special exhibition at the Phillips this fall):

1) Jacob Lawrence painted all 60 panels of his seminal work The Migration Series simultaneously. To keep the colors consistent, Lawrence applied one hue at a time to every painting where it was to appear.


Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 3: From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north., between 1940 and 1941. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1942 © 2016 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

2) Lawrence became the first African American artist to be represented by a New York gallery when The Migration Series was shown at Manhattan’s Downtown Gallery in 1941. It was after seeing the works here that museum founder Duncan Phillips fell in love with Lawrence’s work, and gave the artist his first solo exhibition show in 1942.


Installation of The Migration Series at Downtown Gallery

3) Jacob Lawrence was 24 years old when he painted The Migration Series. He did so with the help of his wife Gwendolyn Knight, who assisted in prepping the boards and writing captions.


Jacob Lawrence working on Panel no. 55 of The Migration Series

Portrait of a Portait Artist: Lydia Field Emmet

Chase_Lydia Field Emmet

William Merritt Chase, Lydia Field Emmett, 1892. Oil on canvas, 72 x 36 1/8 in. Brooklyn Museum, New York, Gift of the artist

After years of study with him at the Art Students League, in 1891, Lydia Field Emmet accepted William Merritt Chase’s offer to lead the preparatory class at the Shinnecock Summer School of Art. By this time, she was also pursuing work as a society portraitist and a designer of stained glass for Tiffany and Company. Her self-assured expression fixed on Chase’s canvas captures an image of an artist who would become one of the foremost American women portrait painters of the late 19th century.

The portrait bears the strong imprint of the 17th century Dutch portraiture tradition, sharing with Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt, and Frans Hals an allegiance to painterly brushwork, elegant contrasts of light and dark, dramatic pose, and expressive tone. Moreover, Lydia Field Emmet highlights Chase’s skillful hand in conveying texture, as seen in the precise rendering of the lace and the variegated tones of the pink satin ribbon—signs of the enduring legacy of the artist’s Munich training.

Elsa Smithgall, William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master exhibition curator

Phillips Flashback: Neither Rain Nor Sleet…

As I worked on an ongoing project to organize Duncan Phillips’s correspondence, I was surprised to see many letters that were sent and received on subsequent days as well as on the same day. Phillips was a prolific letter writer who probably wrote at least ten letters a day, primarily to artists and art galleries.

Phillips’s correspondence with photographer, gallery dealer, and advocate for modern art Alfred Stieglitz began in 1926 and continued until 1946, the year of Stieglitz’s death.

On March 4, 1926, Stieglitz wrote a letter to Phillips in which he spoke about his wife Georgia O’Keeffe’s recent visit to The Phillips Collection. He stated, “She returned from Washington full of rare enthusiasm. She thoroughly enjoyed every moment with you and Mrs. Phillips and the pictures. She tells every one worthwhile what splendid work you are doing. Your Courbets and Daumier, the Renoir, El Greco she tells me about…She is painting and doing incredible work.”

Stieglitz to DP letter_side 1

Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 1)

Stieglitz to DP letter_side 2

Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 2)

Phillips replied on the same day: “It was a great pleasure to show our treasures to Georgia O’Keefe and to know her better. She is certainly a rare person and my wife and I were delighted to discover in her so sensitive and generous a responce to many different kinds of artistic expression. We were only sorry you were not with her but hope you can see the Collection very soon.”

DP to Stieglitz letter_03.04.1926

Letter from Duncan Phillips to Alfred Stieglitz, March 4, 926

According to the 1922 Annual Report of the Postmaster General, smaller cities averaged three to four mail deliveries per day, and larger cities received deliveries three to seven times a day. We can only dream of such an efficient mail service today.