The Whitney's Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965

Solo en Inglès

“I think that’s what our collection aims to be—to really ground people in the work of the particular moment, but also to show how historical work can have new resonance in our contemporary moment.”
—David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection

Hear from a range of artists, curators, and scholars speaking about works on view.

Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946–47

0:00

Narrator: Lawrence’s War Series originated during his service on a World War II navy transport ship.

Jacob Lawrence: I served on the USS Sea Cloud, which was a weather patrol ship, and I served on the United States Richardson, which was a troop transport. Again, I will never forget that experience. We would go over carrying 5,000 troops—young, American troops—and we would come back a hospital ship. Many of these cases were horrible. They were terrible to see, what can happen in war, especially what can happen to a person mentally, physically, psychologically. I don’t think I can verbalize that, because I would only cheapen the experience.

Narrator: Lawrence was initially given the rank of Steward’s Mate, a post that was often the only one available to African Americans.  He soon rose to serve in an integrated regiment as a Coast Guard Artist, going on to document the war in Italy, England, Egypt, and India. After the war, Lawrence became an influential teacher and completed numerous public works and illustrations in addition to his painted works.

A painting of a man kneeling

Narrator: Lawrence’s War Series originated during his service on a World War II navy transport ship.

Jacob Lawrence: I served on the USS Sea Cloud, which was a weather patrol ship, and I served on the United States Richardson, which was a troop transport. Again, I will never forget that experience. We would go over carrying 5,000 troops—young, American troops—and we would come back a hospital ship. Many of these cases were horrible. They were terrible to see, what can happen in war, especially what can happen to a person mentally, physically, psychologically. I don’t think I can verbalize that, because I would only cheapen the experience.

Narrator: Lawrence was initially given the rank of Steward’s Mate, a post that was often the only one available to African Americans.  He soon rose to serve in an integrated regiment as a Coast Guard Artist, going on to document the war in Italy, England, Egypt, and India. After the war, Lawrence became an influential teacher and completed numerous public works and illustrations in addition to his painted works.


Jacob Lawrence, The Letter, 1946-47. Tempera on composition board, 20 1/4 × 16 1/8in. (51.4 × 41 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy R. Neuberger 51.11  © 2017 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.