Jacob Lawrence

Who Was Jacob Lawrence?

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was an American painter and one of the most famous African American artists in the twentieth century. His best-known works are the Migration Series and War Series that were characterized by vibrant colors against black and brown figures all depicting African-American experience.

Jacob Lawrence
Photo: Getty Images/Celeblifegraphy

On many occasions, he used series to tell stories with a focus on historical narratives and contemporary life from an African American perspective. His work has been described as dynamically simple and his powerful representation of themes like struggle, migration, and community is well known.

Early Life And Career

Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917, he moved to Easton, Pennsylvania at an early age. He went into foster care when his parents separated while still a child living in Philadelphia where he took up art. Painter Lawrence enrolled for classes at Utopia Children’s Center, which had an after-school art program due to recommendations by his mother.

With this background in mind one can see why despite leaving school at the age of 16 years old he would still go ahead to take art lessons from places such as the Harlem Art Workshop or visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art repeatedly.

The Migration Series

In 1937, Jacob won a scholarship to attend American Artists School in New York until graduating two years later, whereupon he received support from Federal Art Project grants under WPA that allowed him to create artworks based on modernism.

A year later in 1941, Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery exhibited his most famous works called “Migration Series” which instantly achieved fame in America because it had strong storytelling techniques used throughout the whole series combined with stylistic approach.

World War II

He served aboard a troopship as a Coast Guard artist when drafted into the United States Coast Guard during World War II thereby depicting war through paintings. Within this period he painted about fifty pictures but they were all lost.

‘War Series’

After the war, Lawrence was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and used it to create the War Series. His art making continued in New York albeit with bouts of depression. In 1949 he admitted himself into Hillside Hospital in Queens for almost one year. At that time, his works were tinged with somber colors and figures that were a stark contrast to his earlier works.

Teaching Career And Commissions

Artist Lawrence spent the last two decades of his life residing in Seattle where he taught at the University of Washington until retiring from active service in 1986. His work has become a lasting influence on art as it touches on questions about race and socio-economic status. Many major institutions across the world hold his paintings while retrospectives have featured him numerous times.

While teaching, Lawrence also created commissioned pieces and limited edition prints which supported organizations such as NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Children’s Defense Fund through their sales proceeds. He made murals for various places including Chicago’s Harold Washington Center as well as Times Square subway station in New York City.

Personal Life

Gwendolyn Knight, a painter and sculptor, was his wife and continued to support him in his artistic endeavors. Because of its portrayal of the African American experience and its influence on the art world, Lawrence’s work is still highly regarded.


Jacob Lawrence died on June 9, 2000.

Recognition And Awards

Throughout his career, Lawrence received numerous accolades, including the National Medal of Arts in 1990.

Fun Facts

  • Article Title: Jacob Lawrence Biography
  • Name: Jacob Lawrence
  • Birth Year: 1917
  • Birth Date: September 7, 1917
  • Birth State: New Jersey
  • Birth City: Atlantic City
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Jacob Lawrence was an African American artist of the 20th century. Best known for his ‘Migration Series.’
  • Industries: Art
  • Death Year: 2000
  • Death Date: June 9, 2000
  • Death State: Washington
  • Death City: Seattle
  • Death Country: United States
  • Nationalities: American
  • Author: Celeblifegraphy.com Editors

Quotes By Jacob Lawrence

  • This is my genre.. the happiness, tragedies, and the sorrows of mankind as realized in the teeming black ghetto.
  • All artists are constantly looking for something and they don’t always know what.
  • It made her forget everything, even if for just a minute.