Painting in gouache by Jacob Lawrence, showing two black figures embracing on a bright green couch, against a bright yellow background

Jacob Lawrence

American, 1917–2000

The Lovers, 1946

Gouache on paper

21½ x 30 inches

Signed and dated lower right

Born in Atlantic City to parents migrating north, Jacob Lawrence spent time in foster care in Philadelphia before his mother was able to move him to Harlem, where the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. Mentored by Charles Henry Alston, among others, Lawrence was, says scholar Leslie King-Hammond, “the first major artist of the 20th century who was technically trained and artistically educated within the art community of Harlem.”

The Lovers was painted upon Lawrence’s return to New York after two years in the Coast Guard, where he served as a combat artist, and represents a typical postwar domestic scene. “Our homes were very decorative, full of pattern, like inexpensive throw rugs, all around the house,” Lawrence said of his own home and those of others in his community. “It must have had some influence, all this color and everything. Because we were so poor, the people used this as a means of brightening their life. I used to do bright patterns after these throw rugs; I got ideas from them, the arabesques, the movement, and so on.” In the vibrant colors of The Lovers, one can see the impact of Lawrence’s memories in his depiction of this interior world.

Painting in gouache by Jacob Lawrence, showing two black figures embracing on a bright green couch, against a bright yellow background