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.
…If we fail, let us fail like men, and expire together in one common struggle…–Henry Clay
Depicted here is the solitary American seaman described in Henry Clay’s 1813 speech which called for action against British violation of U.S. maritime rights. Clay was a prominent War Hawk, distinguished as those who favored war with the British. In his speech, Clay declared that America must stand up for the rights of their sailors.
The sailor’s face reveals his excruciating death just seconds after a sword pierces his eye, as his own weapon collapses from his lifeless hand. Lawrence’s use of the part to represent the whole allows the viewer to associate the invisible assailant with the unfolding scene without having to explicitly present him.
The image is accompanied by an abridged version of a quote from the full text of Henry Clay’s speech in 1813. Jacob Lawrence chose this particular quote to complement the dramatic image because it emphasizes that the “one common struggle,” even though it may be from different times and for different people, calls for sacrifice and dedication in the same way.
Amy Woo and Andrea Goldstein