“In the North they had the freedom to vote.”


Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 59: In the North they had the freedom to vote., 1940–41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1942 © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series resonates today in many ways, but this Election Day it seems especially fitting to highlight Panel no. 59, whose caption reads: “In the North they had the freedom to vote.” Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, puts it well in her oral history recorded in 2015:

“I think as with a lot of great art [The Migration Series] will always have meaning. It will have meaning because it speaks to the human spirit, to human aspirations, to courage, to fear, to love, to family. But this specifically because people will always be on the move, people will always be looking for something better, and that will mean that his work will never lose its resonance for generations to come.”

See the full video and learn more about all 60 panels of The Migration Series here.

Election Day in the Collection

Lee Gatch, Three Candidates for Election, 1948. Oil on canvas, 36 x 21 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.

Lee Gatch, Three Candidates for Election, 1948. Oil on canvas, 36 x 21 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.

Lee Gatch was born in Maryland and attended Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, where one of his instructors was John Sloan. In his paintings, Gatch wanted to combine design and color with the natural, abstraction with the representational.

In Three Candidates for Election (1948), warm oranges and yellows on the right side of the painting contrast against the cool blues and grays on the left. What seems at first to be a design of circles and rectangles slowly becomes recognizable as a festive scene of crowds of people carrying banners. The heads of people bob around the banners, like so many helium-filled balloons. Some of the narrow banners zigzag up and off the edge, guiding our eye up the canvas and into the distance, giving a diagonal sense of movement and depth. The left side of the canvas has large vertical rectangles with little squares inside, indicating tall buildings with windows. What appears to be a purely flat decorative painting reveals a happy crowd walking along an avenue in a city, although it isn’t clear if they are marching toward us or away.

The largest squares –the white banner cut off at the lower right, the yellow-orange banner in the middle, and the blue banner touching the upper top right edge–carry images of three identical candidates’  heads. Look closely. Each candidate is shown crowned with a thin golden halo, indicating his  goodness and perfection.

See Three Candidates for Election on view in the stairway of the original Phillips house.

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant