From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Lea Feinstein’s review of Jacob Lawrence: Promised Land at the Cantor Arts Center of Stanford University. Feinstein notes: “In drawing inspiration from iconic works of art history, Lawrence indicated that the stories he painted were part of the larger human context, not just specific to the African American experience.” This article was originally published on May 26, 2015.
Jacob Lawrence’s contribution to the history of American art is invaluable, and Promised Land, on view now at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, is a fine introduction to his work. The Kayden family’s gift of fifty-six works—including paintings, silkscreen prints, and a commissioned artist’s book—constitutes one of the largest collections of Lawrence’s work in a single museum, and it is the largest on the West Coast, exhibited here in its entirety for the first time. The taut and brightly colored works span Lawrence’s creative life from the 1940s to the 1990s. Concurrent Lawrence exhibitions are on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Another large retrospective is planned for the Phillips in 2016.
As a young man in the 1930s in New York, Lawrence studied with Charles Alston, a prominent painter with the Harlem Art Workshop. The pulsing cultural scene in Harlem included writers and musicians such as Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington, and fellow artists Romare Bearden and Augusta Savage (Bearden and Lawrence played pool together). Alston introduced Lawrence to Arthur Wesley Dow’s precepts of color harmony, simplicity of line and shape, and abstract pattern. But the young artist’s frequent trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art were his real education, and his attentive study of the Old Masters of the Italian Renaissance is evident in his work.