These thirty paintings constitute half of the sixty-panel Migration Series, shared between MoMA and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Lawrence took as his subject the exodus of African Americans from the rural South to Northern cities during and after World War I, when industry's demand for workers attracted them in vast numbers. As the son of migrants, Lawrence had a personal connection to the topic. He researched the subject extensively and wrote the narrative before making the paintings, taking seriously the dual roles of educator and artist.
Lawrence was influenced by the work of the Mexican muralists and earlier artists such as Goya, but he drew his stylistic inspiration primarily from the Harlem community in which he lived. The vivid pattern and color—created in tempera paint as Lawrence worked on all the panels at once—reflect an aesthetic that itself had migrated from the South.
Gallery label from 2012.
This painting is part of a series of sixty—half of them owned by The Museum of Modern Art, half by The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.—that tell the story of the Great Migration, the movement of African-Americans from the rural South to the increasingly industrialized North after World War I. While the series as a whole brings out the human drama of the Great Migration, the selection of six panels included in American Modern: Hopper to O'Keeffe focuses on landscape—the countryside that Lawrence's characters left behind, and the cities they adopted as their new home. Even an abstracted view of a labor camp evokes the workers' physical surroundings, which play their own part in this story.
Gallery label from American Modern: Hopper to O'Keeffe, August 17, 2013–January 26, 2014.