Egg tempera on board
9 x 12 inches
Signed and dated lower right
Lawrence spent years in foster care before settling in Harlem with his mother and siblings. He dropped out of school when he was 16 and attended evening classes at the Harlem Art Workshop. Lawrence would go on to meet a “Who’s Who” of the Harlem Renaissance and became the first major artist of the 20th century to receive his technical and artistic training in Harlem. In 1941 he produced the epic series “The Migration of the American Negro,” making him the most celebrated African American artist in the country.
Nativity appears to be a decidedly nonpolitical depiction of the birth of Jesus but for the fact that Lawrence rendered the figures as African American. It waspainted in the year of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement. Lawrence’s employment of fractured, shardlike lines reflects the charged racial environment of the period, and the exaggerated points of the roosters’ combs evoke the crown on the Statue of Liberty. Nativity resonates with the anticipation of a seismic realignment of the divide between the races.