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

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