Jacob Lawrence, ‘The Builders’, 1947, White House Historical Association

This painting of a group of men constructing a building was done by Jacob Lawrence. A stark contrast to the 19th century styles within the White House Collection, this painting leans on browns, reds and blues to convey the impression of busy workmen on an active construction site. Lawrence is one of the best-known African American painters of the 20th century. Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he studied under and worked with several Harlem Renaissance painters and was employed as an artist under the Works Progress Administration, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and afterward had an extensive artistic career while teaching at several universities.

Image rights: White House Collection/White House Historical Association

"This Art is Your Art" Competition: The White House Historical Association, Artsy, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Gift of the White House Acquisition Trust

About Jacob Lawrence

Based on diligent research and inspired by Harlem Renaissance artists Augusta Savage and Charles Alston, Jacob Lawrence illustrated African American history through colorful narrative paintings. His subjects included series on prominent figures in the struggle for black liberation, such as Harriet Tubman; his “The Great Migration” (1940-41) chronicled the Depression-era flight of African Americans from the impoverished rural south to northern cities. Comprising 60 tempera works executed simultaneously with unifying color schemes and visual motifs, it depicted heart-wrenching everyday scenes. New York Times critic Holland Cotter once described Lawrence’s oeuvre as having a “sinewy moral texture...that is in the business of neither easy uplift nor single-minded protest.” Lawrence adopted his characteristic simple forms and abstract elements from African art, linking that aesthetic tradition to present-day black identity.

American, 1917-2000, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Group Shows

Galerie Myrtis, 
Art of the Collector IV
New York, NY, United States,
RISING UP/UPRISING: Twentieth Century African American Art
New York, NY, United States,
INsite/INchelsea: The Inaugural Exhibition
New York, NY, United States,
African American Art: 200 Years
New York, NY, United States,
Embracing the Muse: Africa and African American Art
New York, NY, United States,
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery: The First Decade
New York, NY, United States,
African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks