Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000)
Opaque watercolor on paper
Sheet (Irregular): 30 7/8 × 22 13/16 in. (78.4 × 57.9 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
Characteristic of Jacob Lawrence’s work in the 1940s are subjects drawn from the streets and interiors of Harlem. Although he believed that you cannot “tell a story in a single painting,” Lawrence occasionally worked outside the series structure for which he is best known. In uninflected areas of bold color, Tombstones pictures neighbors and residents in front of an apartment building. It encapsulates the full sweep of life within the African American community, from the cradle—the baby carriage at left, the Madonna-like mother and child at right—to the grave, marked at center by the tombstone seller’s wares. Painted a year after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and a year before the artist would be inducted into the United States Coast Guard as a steward’s mate, Tombstones displays Lawrence’s unflinching realism regarding the cycle of life and death, in his own community and beyond.