Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946–47

Apr 28, 2017


Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946–47


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.