20 in. x 24 in. (50.8 cm x 60.96 cm)
Unlike the earlier Migration series, the cycle of sixty tempera paintings portraying the post-World War I movement of African Americans from southern states to the North, in which Lawrence treated events of recent history that he had experienced only in reading and in oral accounts from family members and friends, the Harlem series was an opportunity to paint what he knew firsthand, as a resident of the uptown Manhattan neighborhood since the age of thirteen. Lawrence's last show before joining the Coast Guard was at New York's Downtown Gallery in May 1943, and consisted of the thirty gouaches from the Harlem series. While in the Coast Guard his interest in contemporary subjects carried over to the job he had in the Public Relations Branch, for which he made a series of paintings about Coast Guard life. These, along with works from the Migration series, were exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in 1944. An Art News review of the exhibition quoted Lawrence as saying he "tried to paint things as I see them.”1
Lawrence's historical perspective continued to occupy him as well during the war years. A series of gouaches on the nineteenth-century abolitionist John Brown was exhibited at the Boston Institute of Modem Art in 1945 before Lawrence left the Coast Guard, and then circulated as a traveling exhibition by the American Federation of Arts between 1946 and 1948. In 1946, out of his own recent past, Lawrence began the War series, a group of tempera paintings depicting different aspects of war—Shipping Out and Going Home were two titles from the series—and continued this into 1947. Among the projects that helped to refocus his attention on the contemporary African American experience was a commission from Fortune magazine in 1947 for ten paintings of the South, which allowed him to travel that summer through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee searching for material. In 1948 the Harlem-based poet Langston Hughes asked Lawrence to do a series of illustrations for One-Way Ticket, a collection of Hughes's poems, many treating themes of daily African American life in the city, which was published in 1949.
In Kibitzers, Lawrence has indeed put forth a statement akin to one of Hughes's succinct descriptions, in the fully poetic reconstruction of reality that is offered in this richly humanistic and wry rendition of urban street life. In representing a board game that appears to be checkers, the artist has featured the spectators and shown the mood of intense concentration uniting players and bystanders which probably had first attracted him to such a scene. This has been brought out through the hunched and looming overlapping shapes of the figures, while color relationships and brushstrokes serve to heighten the air of tension that pervades the image and endows it with such startling vitality.
The universal character of Lawrence's vision is also reflected in the title. The Yiddish word kibitzers, which refers to onlookers at a board or card game given to offering gratuitous advice to the players, has by now entered the mainstream, but in the late 1940s it was probably part of the vernacular only in New York; the choice is revealing of Lawrence's openness to cultures other than his own. The abstract tendencies in Lawrence's painting have remained an important concern of his through the last five decades of his career, and the harmonious balance between form and content in Kibitzers demonstrates the strength of his interest in composition, even in the late 1940s.
Ronny Cohen, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 418; revised by Kelley Tialiou, Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Assistant | Librarian | Archivist
1. Aline B. Louchheim, "Lawrence: Quiet Spokesman: Art News 43 (18 October 1944), p. 14.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
- Forty-Seventh Annual Water Color and Print Exhibition Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts , 10/30/1949 - 12/4/1949
- Scope in Collecting [25th Anniversary Exhibition] Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/19/1956 - 12/24/1956
- The Works Addison Gallery of American Art , 11/7/1969 - 2/22/1970
- Nothing is Certain But Change Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/18/1975 - 5/18/1975
- Afro-American Artists Addison Gallery of American Art , 2/19/1982 - 2/28/1982
- Art II Exhibition Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/14/1983 - 2/14/1983
- Jacob Lawrence The Thompson Gallery at the Massachusetts College of Art , 1/20/1984 - 2/15/1984
- Boys and Girls, Men and Women Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/12/1990 - 6/10/1990
- The American City Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/18/1991 - 3/10/1991
- American Abstraction at the Addison Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/18/1991 - 7/31/1991
- American Abstraction from the Addison Gallery of American Art American Federation of Arts , 2/27/1993 - 12/4/1994
- Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
- Form and Structure: Twentieth Century Work from the Addison Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 12/28/1998 - 4/25/1999
- Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence The Phillips Collection , 5/26/2001 - 1/5/2003
- Milk and Eggs: the Revival of Tempera Painting in America, 1930-1950 Brandywine River Museum of the Tri-County Conservancy , 3/9/2002 - 5/19/2002
- Toward Abstraction Addison Gallery of American Art , 12/23/2005 - 3/26/2006
- Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s American Federation of Arts , 9/9/2006 - 9/7/2009
- Inside, Outside, Upstairs, Downstairs: The Addison Anew Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/7/2010 - 3/27/2011
- Eye on the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/19/2013 - 3/10/2013
- Eye on the Collection: Artful Poses Addison Gallery of American Art , 2/1/2014 - 3/30/2014
- Searching for the Real Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/30/2015 - 7/31/2015
- Eye on the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/1/2017 - 7/31/2018
- Harlem: In Situ Addison Gallery of American Art , 3/29/2019 - 7/31/2019
- Currents/Crosscurrents: American Art, 1850–1950 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/16/2020 - 3/7/2021
- Learning to Look: The Addison at 90 Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/8/2021 - 2/6/2022
This object has the following bibliographic references:
- tests of Andover Inn reproductions . Palm Press, Inc.. 2010
- Patricia Hills. Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence . University of California Press. Fall 2009
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