Modernism and other Twentieth Century

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Jacob Lawrence
Letter from Home (Letter from Europe), 1947
Tempera on gessoed panel
20 x 16 inches
Signed and dated at lower right: Jacob Lawrence / 1947Inscribed on verso: #162 / Letter from Home

The artist; to
[The Downtown Gallery, New York, as "Letter from Europe"];
Alan Brandt, New York;
[Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York]; to
Manoogian Collection, Michigan; to
Private collection, Michigan, until the present

Letter from Home has been grouped with Lawrence’s “War” series, completed during the same year. Other war-related images, not officially part of that series, were completed in the same year, with a similar theme– for instance, 1947’s The Letter, in which a man in a barren room stares down at a note before him on the table. The mood is one of despair, the man’s head hung, disconsolate. In that work, the man could be receiving a letter from the front. The present work submits a similar narrative–the aritst’s dealer at the time, Edith Halpert, presented the work under the title Letter from Europe. The present work submits a similar narrative, but the titular “home” may suggest a letter not from The Front, but from a place abandoned for better life prospects–suggesting a closer relationship to Lawrence’s Migration series. The woman has set aside her needlework in a cell-like room to read news from afar, an intimately personal view of broad historic forces at work. Regardless of the larger context, the emotional narrative of the picture is moving evocation of desolation and hope.

Lawrence conceived and executed both the Migration and War series as complete ideas. The various panels were plotted, sketched, and then painted all at once — essentially treated as parts of a greater whole. Other works outside these series were handled differently; Letter from Home is a case in point. Conceived on its own, it was executed independently of the War series that occupied much of Lawrence’s attention in 1946-7. Nonetheless, the work is suffused with the themes that Lawrence investigated throughout his career– race and identity, home and odyssey, belonging and alienation.


Peter T. Nesbett and Michele DuBois, Jacob Lawrence Paintings, Drawings, and Murals (1935-1999): A Catalogue Raisonne (Seattle, Washington: 2000), p. 102, no. P47-06, illus. in color

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