Struggle and oppression are recurring themes in Jacob Lawrence's work, from the ordeals of historical figures to those of women and of daily life in Harlem. Series also account for an important portion of his oeuvre as they allowed the artist to explore multiple facets of a historical figure's life and to trace the development of events. Rally Mohawks! bring out your axes, and tell King George we'll pay no taxes on his foreign tea-- A SONG OF 1773 also known as Masquerade (Boston Tea-Party) is one of thirty panels that Jacob Lawrence painted for his series Struggle...From the History of the American People. The project, which was originally conceived as a series of sixty panels chronicling of the history of the United States from the events leading up to the Revolutionary War through the sailing of the American Fleet around the world in 1908, was funded by a grant from the Chapelbrook Foundation. Lawrence worked on the series from 1954 until 1956 completing thirty panels that extended to the Western migration. The group was exhibited at the Alan Gallery in 1956 and 1958 before being purchased in 1959 by William Meyers, who sold them off individually over time.
In discussing his inspiration for the Struggle...From the History of the American People series Lawrence wrote, "It was about five years ago that I first conceived the idea of doing a series of paintings relating the history of the Negro people in the United States. As this idea began to develope [sic] and take form, and as I read more of the history of the United States, I gradually began to appreciate not only the struggles and contributions of the "Negro people, but also to appreciate the rich and exciting story of America and of all the peoples who emigrated [sic] to the "New World" and contributed to the creation of the United States." (letter to Mina Curtiss, December 16, 1954, as quoted in R.J. Powell, "Harmonizer of Chaos: Jacob Lawrence at Midcentury," Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, Seattle, Washington, 2000, p. 156)
Rally Mohawks! bring out your axes, and tell King George we'll pay no taxes on his foreign tea-- A SONG OF 1773 is an abstract and dynamic work depicting the Boston Tea Party. It was most likely not just the event that appealed to Lawrence, but also the resulting curtail of civil liberties and oppression of the American people by the British military for which this event was a catalyst. Rebelling against the despised tea tax, in December 1773 Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and Patriots, some of whom were dressed as Native Americans, stormed aboard ships delivering tea to America, dumping chests of the import into the Boston Harbor. The present work depicts five figures, three Patriots dressed as Native Americans and two crewsmen, amidst the mêlée.
The dynamic painting is a cacophonous embodiement of chaotic struggle. Lawrence employs broad swaths of red, brown, black and green to allude to the men's bodies, while their muscular arms jut in multiple directions, some holding weapons and some grabbing another man. The two men in the uppermost portion of the work, who are wearing black and brown respectively, are fighting, each with his hand on the other's face as the Patriot prepares to hit the other man with his weapon. The Patriot in green to the right of the composition and his fellow rebel in red to the right of the composition are both attacking the crew member in black, the former hitting his face with a weapon, while the latter holds his face down as the overpowered man clings desperately to his shoulder. A sixth man's hand enters the composition at right and grabs the head of the Patriot in green. This cluster of heaving bodies is set against a blue background, most likely representing the water of the Harbor.
There is a characteristic rhythm inherent to Rally Mohawks! bring out your axes, and tell King George we'll pay no taxes on his foreign tea-- A SONG OF 1773 that is the result of Lawrence's keen eye for design and ability to combine exaggerated and stylized forms into a composition that is simultaneously complex and reductive. The artist compresses the pictorial space, flattening and layering the forms to infuse the work with the pandemonium of the resistance. The sharply jutting feathers and strong trajectory of the two spears, which extend off the composition and anchor it, add to the sensation of violent struggle. Lawrence characteristically limits his palette and demonstrates a strong focus on repetition in the work, which adds cohesion to the composition, while the emphasis on geometry and sharp delineation provides movement and vivacity. The thinly applied tempera further flattens the space and demonstrates the influence of print-making, which Lawrence learned from an early 1930s Charles Alston's WPA Federal Art Project Workshop.
Conflict is a prevalent theme not only in the present work, but throughout the Struggle...From the History of the American People series. Painted during "the red scare," Richard J. Powell writes of the series, "It is perhaps more than coincidental that Lawrence's pictorial demolition of the myth of Americans as lovers of peace and defenders of the inalienable rights of the poor and dispossessed should appear precisely when loyalties were questioned and patriotism was tested. That these paintings emerged from the New York art scene during this contentious period in American history spoke volumes not only about Lawrence's sense of artistic understatement but of his career-long commitment to painting narratives about social progress and human striving." ("Harmonizer of Chaos: Jacob Lawrence at Midcentury," Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, 2000, p. 160) Rally Mohawks! bring out your axes, and tell King George we'll pay no taxes on his foreign tea-- A SONG OF 1773 is an unidealized depiction of a significant moment in American history that manifests the candid approach and unique style that are characteristic of Lawrence's finest works.