Dream Series #5: The Library

Jacob Lawrence

Depicting activities ranging from introspection to animated discussion, Lawrence represents over thirty-five figures in this vibrant library scene orchestrated through a refined palette of reds, greens, yellows, and blues. Public libraries appear frequently as a subject in Lawrence's paintings, embodying a space where African Americans can access their identity, culture, and history. for Lawrence, Harlem's Schomburg Library played a critical role in his development, providing a facility where he could research such heroes of the African-American community as John brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Toussaint L'Ouverture, all of whom became subjects for Lawrence's work. Lawrence studied with Charles Alston at the American Artists School in New York and worked as part of the easel-painting project of the WPA during the Depression. Fellow Harlem artists Romare Bearden and Gwendolyn Knight, whom he married, were a source of inspiration, as were artists he became acquainted with at Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery, including Horace Pippin, Stuart Davis, and Ben Shahn. Lawrence maintained a figurative style even after the rise of Abstract Expressionism, using his representational language to communicate pride in African-American experiences. He wrote, "My pictures express my life and experiences. I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced. The things I have experienced extend into my national racial and class group."
Date of Birth
Tempera on board
24 x 35 7/8 in. (61.0 x 91.1 cm.)
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Funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Collectors' Circle, the Henry D. Gilpin and John Lambert Funds, and the Pennsylvania Academy Women's Committee