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Meet the Director

About the Whitney

As the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents the full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. The Whitney is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting American art, and its collection—arguably the finest holdings of twentieth-century American art in the world—is the Museum's key resource. The Museum's flagship exhibition, the Biennial, is the country's leading survey of the most recent developments in American art.

Innovation has been a hallmark of the Whitney since its beginnings. It was the first museum dedicated to the work of living American artists and the first New York museum to present a major exhibition of a video artist (Nam June Paik, in 1982). Such important figures as Jasper Johns, Jay DeFeo, Glenn Ligon, Cindy Sherman, and Paul Thek were given their first comprehensive museum surveys at the Whitney. The Museum has consistently purchased works within the year they were created, often well before the artists who created them became broadly recognized.

Designed by architect Renzo Piano and situated between the High Line and the Hudson River, the Whitney's current building vastly increases the Museum’s exhibition and programming space, providing the most expansive view ever of its unsurpassed collection of modern and contemporary American art.

Where We Are

Solo en Inglès

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960.

Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47

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Mark Joshua Epstein: So we are sitting in front of a series of paintings called the War Series by an artist named Jacob Lawrence. And we're going to concentrate on one called The Letter. Take a moment to find it. What do you notice about this painting? 

Student 1: I think it’s almost like the letter has done something to her. Like it was very bad news and she’s very upset about it.

Student 2: Also the colors are very dark. And their head is very low down and sad.

Student 3: Maybe she lost her husband or something because I see a ring on her finger. 

Mark Joshua Epstein: It's interesting that a lot of you identified it as maybe it's a man or maybe it's a woman. It's often written about that it's a man but you're bringing up the point that it's actually kind of hard to tell because someone was just saying that we don't see the face. So when I say the title of the series, which is the War Series, do you think of paintings that look like this, that look like The Letter, or do other kinds of images come to mind?

Student 1: Usually other kinds of images. Like maybe a hospital or something, where people that have been affected by the war, like hurt, go.

Student 2: I’ve seen some paintings of ancient wars, of a bunch of soldiers with spears and riding on horses. If I was going to just hear the name I’d probably think of something like that. 

Student 3: I normally think of men fighting in wars. I don't normally think of the people back at home.

Mark Joshua Epstein: Jacob Lawrence made this series in 1946 and 1947, which is right after he actually served in World War II in the Coast Guard, and he served first in an all-black regiment, and it was kind of lower down the totem pole of what one could do in the army or in the coast guard, and then later he served in an integrated regiment. He had experience of being in the war and he had experience of being all over the world. And someone mentioned before that you were thinkingmaybe we think about ancient war scenes and people with spears, and people have said that Jacob Lawrence was inspired in part by the time he spent in Egypt in the Coast Guard where he would have seen these more ancient works of art.

A painting of a man kneeling

Mark Joshua Epstein: So we are sitting in front of a series of paintings called the War Series by an artist named Jacob Lawrence. And we're going to concentrate on one called The Letter. Take a moment to find it. What do you notice about this painting? 

Student 1: I think it’s almost like the letter has done something to her. Like it was very bad news and she’s very upset about it.

Student 2: Also the colors are very dark. And their head is very low down and sad.

Student 3: Maybe she lost her husband or something because I see a ring on her finger. 

Mark Joshua Epstein: It's interesting that a lot of you identified it as maybe it's a man or maybe it's a woman. It's often written about that it's a man but you're bringing up the point that it's actually kind of hard to tell because someone was just saying that we don't see the face. So when I say the title of the series, which is the War Series, do you think of paintings that look like this, that look like The Letter, or do other kinds of images come to mind?

Student 1: Usually other kinds of images. Like maybe a hospital or something, where people that have been affected by the war, like hurt, go.

Student 2: I’ve seen some paintings of ancient wars, of a bunch of soldiers with spears and riding on horses. If I was going to just hear the name I’d probably think of something like that. 

Student 3: I normally think of men fighting in wars. I don't normally think of the people back at home.

Mark Joshua Epstein: Jacob Lawrence made this series in 1946 and 1947, which is right after he actually served in World War II in the Coast Guard, and he served first in an all-black regiment, and it was kind of lower down the totem pole of what one could do in the army or in the coast guard, and then later he served in an integrated regiment. He had experience of being in the war and he had experience of being all over the world. And someone mentioned before that you were thinkingmaybe we think about ancient war scenes and people with spears, and people have said that Jacob Lawrence was inspired in part by the time he spent in Egypt in the Coast Guard where he would have seen these more ancient works of art.


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.