JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000)
JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000)
JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000)
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JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000)
4 More
Property from an Important Chicago Private Collection
JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000)

Red Earth – Georgia

JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000)
Red Earth – Georgia
signed and dated 'Jacob Lawrence 1947' (lower right)
tempera on board
20 1/8 x 24 in. (51.1 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1947.
The Downtown Gallery, New York
Robert Blackburn, New York
The Downtown Gallery, New York
James Banks, Palm Springs
DC Moore Gallery, New York
The Manoogian Collection, Taylor, Michigan
Jonathan Boos, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Jacob Lawrence: American Painter, exh. cat., Seattle Art Museum, 1986, p. 99, pl. 44 (illustrated).
P.T. Nesbett, M. DuBois, Jacob Lawrence: Paintings, Drawings, and Murals (1935-1999), A Catalogue Raisonné, Seattle, 2000, p. 105, no. P47-15 (illustrated).
P. Hills, “‘In the Heart of Black Belt’: Jacob Lawrence’s Commission from Fortune to Paint the South,” International Review of African American Art, vol. 19, no. 1, 2003, pp. 33 and 35.
P. Hills, Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence, Berkeley, 2009, pp. 161-162, fig. 111 (illustrated).
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Little Show of Work in Progress: Paintings by Robert Gwathmey and Jacob Lawrence, Ceramics by Edwin and Mary Sheier, January-February 1950.
Washington, D.C., American University, Watkins Gallery, Objective and Non-Objective, April-May 1950.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jacob Lawrence, May-July 1974, p. 57, no. 102.
New York, DC Moore, Jacob Lawrence: Memorial Exhibition, February-March 2001.
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; Los Angeles County Museum of Arts and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, May 2001-January 2003.
New York, DC Moore, Jacob Lawrence: Moving Forward, Paintings, 1936-1999, February-March 2008, pp. 11, 23, 76 (illustrated on the cover).
The Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, 2015 (on loan).
Savannah College of Art and Design, Jacob Lawrence: Lines of Influence, September 2017-February 2018, n.p. (illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note this work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Southern/Modern at the Mint Museum in 2024.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In November 1941, Fortune magazine published 26 of the 60 panels from Jacob Lawrence’s groundbreaking Migration series, shortly thereafter purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. With that article, the 24-year-old artist from Harlem burst into national recognition as a revolutionary visual storyteller and pioneering voice in the representation of African-American life and art. Seven years later, Fortune again invited Lawrence to share his visions of the Black experience in an August 1948 article “In the Heart of the Black Belt,” inspired by the artist’s trip to the American Deep South the previous summer. Through the ten paintings completed for this project, including Red EarthGeorgia, Lawrence shed light on the continuing inequalities and discriminations faced by African-Americans in the mid-century South and their enduring hope for a better future—a hope which would blossom into the civil rights movement. As embodied by these stirring images and the politically charged art he would continue to produce over the following decades, Lawrence explained in 1962, “Yes, it would be valid to call me a social protest painter,…but I don’t feel I protest only, or purely, because I’m a Negro. I use the Negro symbol because of my personal experience…but I like to think I go beyond the regional and deal with humanity.” (as quoted in P. Hills, Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence, Berkeley, California, 2009, p. 242)
In addition to Red EarthGeorgia, Lawrence’s “In the Heart of the Black Belt” temperas include In the Heart of the Black Belt (Art Bridges Foundation, Bentonville, Arkansas); Gees Bend (Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences, Evansville, Indiana); The Businessmen (sold; Sotheby’s, November 2018); Cat Fish Row (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia); Migration (De Young Museum, San Francisco, California); A Class in Shoemaking (Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania); Beer Hall (Private Collection, New York); July 4th, Independence Day, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Location Unknown); and The Builders (The White House, Washington, D.C.), a related drawing for which is on the reverse of the present work.
Seeking inspiration for this body of work, Lawrence traveled for two to three weeks in June and July of 1947, spending much of his time in the Mississippi Delta region with stops through Memphis, Tennessee; Vicksburg, Mississippi; New Orleans; and the Tuskegee Institute and Gee’s Bend in Alabama. Accompanying the paintings, as with many of his series, Lawrence chose extended captions for each of the works. Patricia Hills explains, “Lawrence considered his paintings far more than postcards from his trip to the South; they were imagined syntheses of what he saw, heard, and felt, and the texts—many from African Americans—were integral to that expression.” (Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence, p. 163) Lawrence’s text for Red EarthGeorgia reads: “Within the black belt can be found most of the Negro wealth in the United States. There are palatial homes, palatial funeral parlors, rich insurance companies and a few banks—but the great mass of people are poor.”
Coupled with the painting title’s reference to the red soil of Georgia, this artist statement importantly parallels a powerful line that Martin Luther King would recite on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial fifteen years later in August 1963: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Lawrence’s trip South in 1947, a year after Truman issued the President’s Commission on Civil Rights, immersed him in the sociological aftermath of the Southern plantation culture, of which Black Americans are still facing repercussions today almost 75 years later. Yet, his acknowledgement and publicity of the problem in paintings such as Red EarthGeorgia provided an important starting ground for the work to be done by the civil rights leaders of the following decades.
As in King’s iconic speech, the group of ten temperas Lawrence completed based on his Southern experience represent not only the struggle, but also the optimism for change that he witnessed. Indeed, just as he mentions some of the successful businesses African-Americans were developing in the caption for Red EarthGeorgia, in a general statement about his trip, Lawrence described that Blacks were “denied first-class citizenship, and civil liberties are the properties of white men…But there are other Negroes—teachers, lawyers, social scientists, farmers, and social workers—who are working hard to obtain equality of economic, educational, and social status, which has been denied several millions of Negroes for over three hundred years. These are the men and women who are optimistic, and rightfully so, concerning the Negroes future not only in the South but in the United States.” (as quoted in P.T. Nesbett, M. DuBois, Jacob Lawrence: Paintings, Drawings, and Murals (1935-1999), A Catalogue Raisonné, Seattle, Washington, 2000, p. 104)
The 1948 Fortune article illustrated three of the more hopeful paintings depicting hardworking African-Americans on trucks to cotton fields, tending a chicken farm and providing guidance to their community. They were published alongside a description by photographer Walker Evans, noting, “The strong tempera paintings on these pages—a little milder, a little more objective than before—are from Lawrence’s new series, ‘In the Heart of the Black Belt.’ Milder—but not mild. The great hurt group of people that is Jacob Lawrence’s subject still forces him to leave all the small, pleasing tricks of painting alone.” (“In the Heart of the Black Belt,” Fortune, August 1948, p. 88)
Not as “mild” as Evans suggests, the boldly modern execution and overall surface patterning of Red EarthGeorgia underscore Lawrence’s social commentary in the piece. Lawrence powerfully employs elements of abstraction to highlight the inner spirit and power of Georgia—its red earth and the people tied to it. While maintaining representative subjects, Lawrence was well immersed in the abstract movements of the post-War period in which he painted. Lawrence had taught in 1946 at Black Mountain College alongside Joseph Albers, who helped Lawrence understand more technically the ways colors convey meanings and the effects of overlaying organic forms with geometric shapes. Yet, while many of Lawrence’s Black contemporaries like Norman Lewis sought to escape relegation as solely ‘Black art’ by shifting to fully abstract painting, Lawrence instead utilizes modern techniques to further highlight the figurative aspects of his work. Indeed, Lawrence declared, “my work is abstract in the sense of having been designed and composed but it is not abstract in the sense of having no human content.” (as quoted in Jacob Lawrence: Over the Line, Washington, D.C., 2001, p. 123)
In Red EarthGeorgia, Lawrence utilizes the intense blood red of the earthen foreground to catch the viewer’s eye and visually compress the figures into the upper third of the composition, effectively segregating them from the viewer. The faces of the sharecroppers and their families are purposefully almost featureless, expected to fade into the background in anonymity yet refusing to do so with their colorful clothing. Even while depicted as almost shadows of themselves—a harbinger of Kara Walker’s silhouette works—each of Lawrence’s subjects has a distinct personality, shining light on their toils and love of family in the face of disheartening conditions. The angular collage of black clapboards in the background emphasizes the dynamic Cubist style for which Lawrence is best known, while the more energetic, gestural handling of paint in the foreground exhibits the artist at his most abstract.
Lawrence’s teacher, the artist Charles Alston, praised, “Working in the very limited medium of flat tempera he achieved a richness and brilliance of color harmonies both remarkable and exciting. He is particularly sensitive to the life about him; the joy, the suffering, the weakness, the strength of the people he sees every day. This for the most point forms the subject matter of his interesting compositions. Still a very young painter, Lawrence symbolizes more than any one I know, the vitality, the seriousness and promise of a new and socially conscious generation of Negro artists.” (as quoted in M.W. Brown, Jacob Lawrence, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1974, p. 9) Indeed Lawrence’s best works, including Red EarthGeorgia, employ the artist’s unique style and modern compositional techniques to not only capture the zeitgeist of the mid-20th Century Black experience but moreover to empower the following generations of African-American artists to hope and work for change.
A notable previous owner of the present work was Robert Blackburn, a fellow artist and close friend of Lawrence dating back to their time together studying under Alston at the 306 workshop. Blackburn went on to establish the Printmaking Workshop in New York, with collaborators including Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, John Biggers, Benny Andrews and Faith Ringgold, among many others.

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