Being provincial: This means you see the great paintings when you’re lucky.
The painter Jacob Lawrence: his work certainly falls under that “great” label. Since he spent a considerable and significant chunk of his life in New York, that city is full of his paintings. I mean, it’s full of every artist’s paintings. But New York City has so many Jacob Lawrences that sometimes they just show up. In the past three years, not one but two “lost” Lawrences have been casually discovered in people’s apartments. In both cases, the owners didn’t even know the paintings were his.
Here in New England: can you even find a Lawrence painting? I was curious. And I love visiting smaller museums with some specific obscure work in mind. So I made a possible itinerary for anyone interested in pilgrimage. Obviously all these pieces won’t be on view; most probably won’t. Emailing the correct curator or collections manager and asking nicely can usually help in seeing ‘em.
Massachusetts and Connecticut form the bulk, but there are also some gems in Maine. I fit what I could comfortably fit for a first draft. This is a work in progress I’ll update as time allows. It’s likely missing places, so feel free to lemme know if there’s either a venue or specific work to include. Or, if you have another artist to suggest for a future cataloging, hit me up.
Art Museum at University of St. Joseph (West Hartford)
1 work total, a screen print of The Builders (The Family) (1974), which can be found elsewhere on this list.
New Britain Museum of American Art
3 works total: The Builders (Family) (1974, screenprint), Dreams #1 (1965, gouache), and an uncommon later period piece, On the Way (1990, lithograph). Very promising selections, imo.
Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford)
3 works total, though it’s really 25 if you count everything from the screenprint collection, The Legend of John Brown, which numbers 22 images. The only unique, single work is a watercolor called Rain from 1946.
[Collections page—you’ll need to manually search for Lawrence]
6 works total: 1 drawing, 1 lithograph, and 3 screenprints, plus a gelatin silver print of Lawrence himself by Arnold Newman. There are some good ones here. Morning Still Life is seemingly banal subject matter for Lawrence and might warrant a trip to New Haven for its oddity alone.
Bowdoin College Museum of Art (Brunswick)
2 works total: 1 drawing (The Schomburg Library, 1946), and a photograph of Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight, taken by Irving Penn.
Colby Museum of Art (Waterville)
18 works total, which counts the screenprint series The Life of Toussaint L’ouverture and 3 other works: Often Three Families Share One Toilet (1943, watercolor and gouache), Protest Rally (c. 1965, gouache), and another construction scene, Builders #1 (1968, gouache and tempera). Everything is unique to the region. Jackpot!
Ogunquit Museum of American Art
1 work total: a print of Carpenters from 1977. Quite a handsome work with Lawrence’s signature angularity.
Davis Museum at Wellesley
25 works listed, but this comprises a screenprint collection (The Legend of John Brown) and one other screenprint, the masterful Confrontation at the Bridge (1975).
6 works total. As the name implies, this is a shared database for five universities in western Mass. Of the bunch, it looks like Forward Together (1997, screenprint) is the only unique work regionally. It’s at Smith College Museum of Art, which houses 4 of the other works, including an unsigned test print of The Builders (The Family). Amherst College has another copy of Carpenters (1977) as well.
Harvard Art Museums
4 works total, and 3 of them are unique. We, the people… (1955, tempera on board) is currently on view, as is Ventriloquist, an egg tempera painting from 1952. The Swearing In (1977, screenprint) isn’t on view but does seem to be unique to the region.
3 works total, all unique: Cafe Comedian (1957, casein on paper), The Pool Game (1970, watercolor), and Junk (1937, tempera on paper). There’s no photograph of Junk available, and it’s an early work, which makes one extra curious.
Williams College Museum of Art (Williamstown)
3 works total: Radio Repairs (1946, gouache on paper), Square Dance (1950, casein on paper) and a 1972 Olympic poster. The first two are unique holdings. Square Dance is from Lawrence’s inpatient paintings, aka the Hospital Series.
Worcester Art Museum
3 works total: They Live in Fire Traps (1943, gouache on paper), The Checker Players (1947, egg tempera on panel), and a screenprint of The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots. The first two seem to be unique holdings.
Hood Museum at Dartmouth
3 works total, all unique to the region it seems: Soldiers and Students (1962, watercolor), Flight II (1967, watercolor and tempera), and Harlem Street Scene (1975, screenprint). New Hamps barely has any Lawrences, but Flight II looks amazing, with a light magical touch applied to the artist’s usual realism.[Collections page]
2 works total, and only 1 is unique: There is an Average of Four Bars to Every Block (1943, gouache and ink). The other piece is a screenprint of migrants voting that seems to have been donated to half the museums on this list.
Didn’t find any yet :'(