Phillips Flashback: The Migration Series Debuts

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 1: During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1942.

On December 8, 1941, Jacob Lawrence’s Migration of the Negro (today’s The Migration Series) made its public debut at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in the landmark exhibition, American Negro Art.

24-year-old Lawrence was already an established artist, having shown his “Toussaint L’Overture” series (1937-38) in a 1939 exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The 1941 installation of The Migration Series at the Downtown Gallery elevated Lawrence’s reputation and career. It also resulted in its sale to the then Phillips Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art ensuring visual pleasure and spiritual enrichment for generations of museum-goers.

Mike Owens, Gallery Educator

Congenial Spirits: Cirque Series Meets Migration Series

(Left) Georges Rouault, Cirque de l'étoile filante, Plate XV: Les Ballerines, printed 1938. Color etching and aquatint on paper, 12 3/8 x 8 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1939 (Center) Georges Rouault, Cirque de l'étoile filante, Plate XVI: Auguste, printed 1938. Color etching and aquatint on paper, 12 3/8 x 8 5/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1939. (Right) Georges Rouault, Cirque de l'étoile filante, Plate XVII: Dors, mon amour, printed 1938. Color etching and aquatint on paper, 12 3/8 x 8 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1939. Photo: Amy Wike

After bidding adieu to Allan deSouza’s The World Series, the empty gallery space has been filled with French fauvist Georges Rouault‘s Cirque de L’Étoile Filante (Circus of the Shooting Star). Just as deSouza’s work elicited an interesting dialogue when viewed next to Lawrence’s series, the neighboring gallery again provides visitors with a thought-provoking comparison. Similar in certain aspects (format, year created, size), the two series differ greatly in content and method.

Several of Rouault’s panels include tutu-clad circus performers, adding a playful foil to Degas’s ballet dancers just a few galleries away.

Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Series and Georges Rouault's Cirque de L'Étoile Filante create an interesting conversation in neighboring galleries. Photo: Amy Wike