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         JACOB  LAWRENCE,  1917-2000     
         GWENDOLYN  KNIGHT  LAWRENCE,  (born 1913)

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Jacob Lawrence, the best known and most widely acclaimed African American artist of the twentieth century, is now recognized as a major figure in American art. A talented painter who believed that the "Negro struggle is a symbol of the struggle of all mankind," Lawrence often drew thematically on the African American experience in his boldly colored, semiabstract images to invoke the human experience, which transcends race and gender. Lawrence gained national recognition in 1941 when he became the first black artist to exhibit in a major New York gallery and, consequently, was the first to receive national press coverage (including a profile in ARTnews in 1944). Irving Penn, who was himself then gaining acclaim as a photographer, made this portrait of Lawrence and his wife, Gwen Knight (also a recognized artist), about the time of Lawrence's 1947 exhibition at New York's influential Downtown Gallery. This was his first one-man show in New York since returning to civilian life after wartime service in the Coast Guard. Lawrence's pose seems awkward and uncomfortable in Penn's photograph, suggesting the intense psychological pressure he experienced at that time for being (as ARTnews described him in its review of the exhibition) "at thirty the best-known Negro painter in America."

Jacob and Gwen Lawrence, New York
Irving Penn (born 1917)
Gelatin silver print, 1947
Published February 1984
Irving Penn; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York City

© 1948 (renewed 1976) Condé Nast Publications, Inc.
(Printable page)

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