Jacob Lawrence

War Series: Reported Missing
1947

On view
Floor 7

Jacob Lawrence’s War Series describes first-hand the sense of regimentation, community, and displacement that the artist experienced during his service in the United States Coast Guard during World War II. Lawrence served his first year in St. Augustine, Florida, in a racially segregated regiment where he was first given the rank of Steward’s Mate, the only one available to black Americans at the time. He befriended a commander who shared his interest in art, however, and he went on to serve in an integrated regiment as Coast Guard Artist, documenting the war in Italy, England, Egypt, and India. Those works are lost, but in 1946 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to paint the War Series. The fourteen panels of the series present a narrative which progresses from Shipping Out to Victory. In the panels, Lawrence adopted the silhouetted figures, prominent eyes, and simplified, overlapping profiles that are typical of Egyptian wall painting. And like the ancient painters, he transformed groups of figures into surface patterns, eschewing modeling and perspective in favor of the immediacy of bold, abstracted forms. In their alternation between vertical and horizontal formats, single figures and groups, and intense action and contemplation, the fourteen panels of the War Series testify to Lawrence’s belief that one cannot “tell a story in a single painting.”

Artist
Jacob Lawrence

Title
War Series: Reported Missing

Date
1947

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Tempera on composition board

Dimensions
Overall: 15 7/8 × 20 1/16 in. (40.3 × 51 cm)

Accession number
51.18

Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy R. Neuberger

Rights and reproductions information
© The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



Audio

  • Where We Are, Spanish

    Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47

    Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47

    0:00

    Narrator: El artista Jacob Lawrence dio el título de Victory a esta pintura al temple. Sin embargo, la cabeza de la figura pende sobre su arma asentada de pie. La pintura forma parte de War Seriesque se originó durante el servicio de Lawrence en un barco de transporte de la armada, en la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

    Jacob Lawrence: Serví en el USS Sea Cloud, que era un barco patrulla de clima; también serví en el United States Richardsonque transportaba tropas. Jamás olvidaré esa experiencia. En el viaje de ida transportábamos a 5,000 tropas —jóvenes soldados estadounidenses— y regresábamos convertidos en un barco-hospital. Muchos de esos casos eran horrorosos. Era terrible verlos, ver lo que podía suceder en la guerra, especialmente lo que podía sucederle a las personas mental, física y psicológicamente. No puedo verbalizarlo, porque desvalorizaría la experiencia. 

    Narrator: Al principio, Lawrence recibió el rango de Auxiliar de Sobrecargo, puesto que solía ser el único disponible para los afroamericanos. Pronto pasó a servir en un regimiento integrado como Artista Guarda Costa, cargo con el que pasaría a documentar la guerra en Italia, Inglaterra, Egipto e India. Después de la guerra, Lawrence se convirtió en un maestro influyente y realizó numerosas obras públicas e ilustraciones, además de su obra pictórica.

  • Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47

    Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47

    0:00

    Narrator: In War Series, Jacob Lawrence walks us through the traumatic experience of World War II. 

    Take a close look at the paintings, one by one. Notice the repetitive shapes and colors. Some emphasize the chaotic conditions of life in battle. Others, the cramped, confined conditions soldiers suffered off the field.

    Find a group of soldiers clustered underneath a tank. Notice which directions each of the men are looking. The ones near the top seem focused on the battle ahead—but at the bottom, a wounded soldier is being carried away on a stretcher. What’s the body language like here? There’s an intense mix of stress, pain, and probably fear.

    Now look at a person leaning over a black table, and looking at a single bright white sheet of paper. The painting is called The Letter. What kind of news do you think it’s delivering? And what clues does Lawrence give you about its recipients’ feelings?

    Finally, let’s look at the last painting. It’s called Victory. It shows a single soldier, his head bent. You can’t see his face, but his body helps to communicate his emotions. The war is won—how would you expect him to feel? Is that how he actually looks? What kinds of words would you use to describe him? Excited? Thankful? Tired?

    During the war, Lawrence served in the Coast Guard, which was then part of the Navy. Soon after it was over, he made these paintings in order to deal with his feelings about it.

  • Where We Are

    Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47

    Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47

    0:00

    Narrator: El artista Jacob Lawrence dio el título de Victory a esta pintura al temple. Sin embargo, la cabeza de la figura pende sobre su arma asentada de pie. La pintura forma parte de War Series, que se originó durante el servicio de Lawrence en un barco de transporte de la armada, en la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

    Jacob Lawrence: Serví en el USS Sea Cloud, que era un barco patrulla de clima; también serví en el United States Richardson, que transportaba tropas. Jamás olvidaré esa experiencia. En el viaje de ida transportábamos a 5,000 tropas —jóvenes soldados estadounidenses— y regresábamos convertidos en un barco-hospital. Muchos de esos casos eran horrorosos. Era terrible verlos, ver lo que podía suceder en la guerra, especialmente lo que podía sucederle a las personas mental, física y psicológicamente. No puedo verbalizarlo, porque desvalorizaría la experiencia. 

    Narrator: Al principio, Lawrence recibió el rango de Auxiliar de Sobrecargo, puesto que solía ser el único disponible para los afroamericanos. Pronto pasó a servir en un regimiento integrado como Artista Guarda Costa, cargo con el que pasaría a documentar la guerra en Italia, Inglaterra, Egipto e India. Después de la guerra, Lawrence se convirtió en un maestro influyente y realizó numerosas obras públicas e ilustraciones, además de su obra pictórica.

  • America Is Hard to See

    Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946–47

    Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946–47

    0:00

    Narrator: Artist Jacob Lawrence.  

    Jacob Lawrence: This is owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art—it’s the War Series. There are 14 paintings in the series, and these are several of those paintings.

    Narrator: Lawrence’s War Series originated during his service on a World War Two navy transport ship. It depicts a range of emotional experiences, from the fear and confusion of combat to the tragedy of loss. Lawrence made a point of showing black and white servicemen together. This reflects part of his experience in World War II. He served with the US Coast Guard, which was then part of the navy. 

    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. 

    Narrator: Like most African American sailors, Lawrence was initially classified as a steward’s mate—essentially, a servant for white officers. But his first captain, Lieutenant Commander Carlton Skinner, made his ship, the Sea Cloud the first fully integrated vessel in the US Navy. Captain Skinner helped Lawrence obtain a public relations rating. This allowed him to paint on duty, as ship’s artist. 

    Lawrence began the War Series soon after he was discharged in December, 1945. It was his way of coming to terms with what he’d witnessed. If you’d like to hear more about his experience, tap the button to continue.



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