Jacob Lawrence - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • Jacob Lawrence was critically acclaimed for pairing his fascination in everyday life with intricate abstraction. In Street Scene, 1951, Lawrence’s ability to conjure imagery from life is palpable. A child bounces his ball. A woman pushes a baby in a stroller. Two children run flailing their toy guns in the air. Several men walk briskly, heading to work. Through the monochromatic, anonymous figures in these vignettes, Lawrence uniquely captures the vigor of a bustling city street intimately. Sold to benefit The Hudson School in Hoboken, New Jersey, Street Scene speaks to the continued value in Lawrence’s pursuit of creating a community of socially conscious individuals. 

    "This is my genre...the happiness, tragedies, and the sorrows of mankind as realized in the teeming black ghetto." —Jacob LawrenceRevered for his depictions of African American historical and contemporary figures, Lawrence gained inspiration for his works directly from the urban world around him in Harlem, New York–its rhythm, the geometry of the cityscape, and the legacy of Harlem Renaissance. While Lawrence’s work drew on the tenets of Social Realism in his artistic exploration of issues of race, equality and justice, he simultaneously pushed his art towards abstraction in a manner that resisted easy definitions of his art and garnered him widespread fame. At the young age of only 23, Lawrence gained national recognition for his 60-panel The Migration Series, 1940-1941. Thematizing the Great Migration of African Americans from the South after World War I, which brought his own family north, this work was notably acquired and split between The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Phillips Collections in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, Lawrence was considered perhaps the most recognized and critically acclaimed Black artist in America at the time.


    Executed in 1951, Street Scene presents a minute understanding of daily life in America, as Lawrence imbues his figures with both incomprehensible struggle and unparalleled gumption for life. His monochromatic Street Scene exists as a thoughtful adaptation of his own experiences through the lens of what he called “Dynamic Cubism,” an approach heavily influenced by the shapes and colors of Harlem as well as Josef Albers’ analytical approach to form and color – which he became intimately familiar with having taught with Albers at Black Mountain College in 1947.


    Street Scene exemplifies how Lawrence’s visual language developed in the 1950s, as he broke down figures and objects into sharp, overlapping, and sometimes, irregularly geometric forms. Unlike his Migration Series, Street Scene embarks on imagining the realities of life through integrating a multiplicity of black and white hues. Through his aesthetic techniques, Lawrence unveils a deeper psychological perception of both the individual and the collective. The angular, dynamic flashes of Street Scene foreshadow Lawrence’s Struggle series, which he began just three years later and was recently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    "In the era of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the history that [Lawrence’s work] brings to life...seems as relevant as ever." —Sarah GoodyearJacob Lawrence’s work continues to encourage poignant discourse regarding race in America. As Critic Sarah Goodyear of Bloomberg notes, “in the era of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the history that [Lawrence’s work] brings to life, of a people striving for a better life, despite violence, prejudice, and injustice—seems as relevant as ever.”i  With recent nation-wide protests of racial injustice, works like Street Scene present the artist’s humbling visions of brotherhood and the striving for a better world.


    An Interview With Jacob Lawrence



    i Sarah Goodyear, “Black Lives Matter In Jacob Lawrence’s 1940s Migration Series Now On Rare View at MoMA”, Bloomberg, April 14, 2015, online

    • Provenance

      The Downtown Gallery, Inc., New York
      David Terry, New York (acquired from the above in 1951)
      Private Collection
      Gifted from the above to the present owner in 2000

Property Sold to Benefit The Hudson School


Street Scene

signed and dated “Jacob Lawrence 1951” lower center right
gouache, ink and graphite on paper
image 10 x 16 1/2 in. (25.4 x 41.9 cm)
sheet 17 3/4 x 23 1/2 in. (45.1 x 59.7 cm)

Executed in 1951.

Peter Nesbett, co-author of Jacob Laurence: Paintings, Drawings, and Murals, A Catalogue Raisonné, has provided his written opinion of the work's authenticity.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $69,300

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261


20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020