Makeup by Jacob Lawrence

  • This captivating composition of performers backstage was created by American great Jacob Lawrence
  • A true student of art history, he spent his youth during the Harlem Renaissance visiting NYC museums
  • Often referring to his style as "dynamic cubism," Lawrence was influenced by Picasso and Cezanne
  • The artist is cemented within the canon of art history as the first Black artist acquired by MoMA
  • Get complete item description here
Price Upon Request Item No. 31-5981

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Jacob Lawrence
1917-2000 | American


Signed (lower right)
Tempera on board

Inspired by the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem, Jacob Lawrence’s masterpiece Makeup brings viewers behind the scenes to the dressing room as the African-American actors prepare for their performance. The vibrant scene draws the eye to a row of mirrors reflecting the actors’ exaggerated expressions in the style of African masks. These masks not only allude to the symbolic masks of theatre, comedy and drama, but also pay homage to some of Pablo Picasso’s Cubist masterpieces. Meanwhile, in the foreground, a pair of performers engage in a lively game of cards that further ties his work to another modern master, Paul Cezanne, and his famed work, the The Card Players. Highly referential and completely captivating, Lawrence’s Makeup displays the artist’s finesse in sharing his lived experiences through a robust understanding of art history.

Makeup is from the artist’s Performance series, which explored the contrasting personalities of African-American public and private lives. Depicting brass bands, vaudevillians, and magicians, as well as the intimate, hidden moments shared by performers behind closed doors, the series debuted at the Downtown Gallery to critical and commercial success. Lawrence engaged with themes of individuality throughout his prolific career, with notably impressive clarity in Makeup. Young, gifted, and Black, Lawrence left an indelible mark on the history of American art with his poignant, modern paintings of African-American life.

After moving from Philadelphia at 13 years old, Jacob Lawrence spent his teenage years in Harlem during the great Harlem Renaissance. He fell in love with art from an early age and spent time in the studios of the renowned artists Charles Alston and Augusta Savage, both of whom were significant figures in the movement inspired by the writings of Alain Locke. During these formative years, the artist studied at the famed Schomburg collection at the 135th Street library, which housed artbooks as well as African art, and was a consistent visitor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the MoMA. A true student of art history, Lawrence often referred to his style as “dynamic cubism,” deeply inspired by both the works of Social Realism and Cubism he saw in these museum institutions. 

Lawrence was catapulted onto the international stage after presenting the groundbreaking works of the forty-one-panel The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture from 1937 and the sixty-panel The Migration of the Negro from 1940. Not only was Lawrence the first Black artist to have their artworks acquired for the MoMA's permanent collection in 1941, but he was also commissioned by the U.S. government to create paintings for the public works of the New Deal and exhibited widely during his lifetime. Today, Lawrence’s artworks are held in over 200 museum collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Painted 1952

Featured in the artist’s catalogue raisonné as no. P52-04

Board: 21 1/4“ high by 27” wide
Frame: 30“ high by 34” wide

Performance: A Series of New Paintings in Tempera by Jacob Lawrence. The Downtown Gallery, New York, NY,January 27-February 14, 1953, exhibition no. 3
1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Sculpture, Watercolors and Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, April 9-May 29, 1953, exhibition no. 103.
American Painting 1954, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, February 26-March 21, 1954
From Museum Walls…, The Alan Gallery, New York, NY, June 15-August 20, 1954, exhibition no. 11
Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA, December 22, 1954-January 3, 1955
Art: USA: 59, A Force, A Language, A Frontier. Coliseum, New York, NY, April 3-19, 1959, exhibition no. 125
Herbert A. Goldstone Collection of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, May 15- September 12,1965, exhibition no. 54
Jacob Lawrence: Paintings, Drawings and Prints from 1937 – 1998, DC Moore Gallery, New York, NY, December 12, 2001-January 26, 2002
Embracing the Muse, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY, January 15-March 13, 2004. Illustrated in color in the exh. catalogue, page 47
African American Art: 200 Years, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY, January 10-March 28, 200. Illustrated in the exh. catalogue, page 113

Fred Mitchell, “Gallery Previews in New York,” Pictures on Exhibit 15, 5 (February 1953), page 33.
Alice B. Saarinen, , exh. cat. (New York: American Federation of Arts, 1960), page 40.
Peter T. Nesbitt and Michelle DuBois, ed., Jacob Lawrence: Paintings Drawings, and Murals (1935-1999) (Seattle:University of Washington Press: 2000), page 121, catalogue raisonné no. P52-04
Peter T. Nesbitt and Michelle DuBois, ed., Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence (Seattle: Universityof Washington Press, 2001), page 165, plate 55
Hills, Patricia, Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence (Los Angeles: University of California Press,2009), page 222

Jacob Lawrence, New York
The Alan Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
 ACA Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Chicago
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Scarsdale, NY
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
M.S. Rau, New Orleans
Makeup by Jacob Lawrence
Period: 1919-Present
Origin: America
Type: Paintings
Depth: 1.5 Inches
Width: 34.0 Inches
Height: 30.0 Inches
Style: Modernism
Canvas Width: 27 Inches
Canvas Height: 21.25 Inches
Makeup by Jacob Lawrence
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