Narrator: In War Series, Jacob Lawrence walks us through the traumatic experience of World War II. 

Take a close look at the paintings, one by one. Notice the repetitive shapes and colors. Some emphasize the chaotic conditions of life in battle. Others, the cramped, confined conditions soldiers suffered off the field.

Find a group of soldiers clustered underneath a tank. Notice which directions each of the men are looking. The ones near the top seem focused on the battle ahead—but at the bottom, a wounded soldier is being carried away on a stretcher. What’s the body language like here? There’s an intense mix of stress, pain, and probably fear.

Now look at a person leaning over a black table, and looking at a single bright white sheet of paper. The painting is called The Letter. What kind of news do you think it’s delivering? And what clues does Lawrence give you about its recipients’ feelings?

Finally, let’s look at the last painting. It’s called Victory. It shows a single soldier, his head bent. You can’t see his face, but his body helps to communicate his emotions. The war is won—how would you expect him to feel? Is that how he actually looks? What kinds of words would you use to describe him? Excited? Thankful? Tired?

During the war, Lawrence served in the Coast Guard, which was then part of the Navy. Soon after it was over, he made these paintings in order to deal with his feelings about it.

More Audio Guides