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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© 2010 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
American, 1917 - 2000
The Brown Angel
Tempera on gesso panel

23 5/16 x 19 1/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of the Caroline Wiess Law Foundation, with additional funds provided by the African American Art Advisory Association and Exxon/Mobil

Arts of North America

One of the most prominent and prolific American painters of the 20th century, Jacob Lawrence pioneered a Modernist pictorial style while retaining a personal commitment to the figurative. He launched his painting career in Social Realism, the result of his studies with the Works Progress Administration and the Harlem Art Workshop in the 1930s. In the two decades that followed, Lawrence produced a number of paintings that depict nightlife, of which The Brown Angel is exemplary.

Lawrence renders the interior of a bar with an intense compositional dynamism, bold patches of flattened color, and an overall sense of patterning. But these edgy, splintered forms also point to a larger feeling of social unease. The schematic figures and the fractured bar lend an air of tension and disquiet, one that relays the collective anxiety of the black community on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. In this scene, painted after the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, desegregation and its violent backlash loom overhead, much like the timekeeping brown angel who overlooks all.