The Legend of John Brown: Serigraphs by Jacob Lawrence

Now Open at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


Print No. 13, from The Legend of John Brown, 1977


This special installation highlights an important recent acquisition of American art - Jacob Lawrence’s The Legend of John Brown graphic series. Consisting of twenty-two silk-screen prints, the portfolio is based on Lawrence’s same-size gouache paintings from 1941 (owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts). In 1977, the paintings became too fragile for public display and the Detroit museum commissioned Lawrence to reproduce them as limited-edition screen-prints. Each painting was originally displayed with the artist’s accompanying text, which builds on the powerful visual narrative.


Twenty-two works tell the story of white abolitionist, John Brown, who, in the fall of 1859, organized secret attacks to liberate slaves from southern plantations, led antislavery troops in an effort to keep Kansas a free state, and thus contributed to the onset of the Civil War.


This 1977 series represents painter Jacob Lawrence at his full artistic strength. Vibrant color and powerful graphic imagery combine in an unforgettable opportunity to explore a critical moment in American history and to consider the important role of artists in interpreting and disseminating that history.