Lot 8
  • 8


180,000 - 250,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jacob Lawrence
  • Menagerie
  • signed and dated '64
  • watercolor and gouache on paper 
  • 22 1/8 by 30 3/4 in. 56.2 by 78.1 cm.


Terry Dintenfass, New York 
Private Collection
DC Moore Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Seattle (acquired from the above in 1999)
Sotheby's, New York, 28 November 2001, Lot 136
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner 


New York, DC Moore Gallery, Jacob Lawrence Memorial Exhibition: Paintings 1937-1999, February - March 2001


Peter T. Nesbelt and Michelle DuBois, Jacob Lawrence: Paintings, Drawings and Murals (1935-1999) A Catalogue Raisonné, Seattle 2000, cat. no. P64-11, p. 158, illustrated in color 
Peter T. Nesbelt and Michelle DuBois, Over the Line: The Art and life of Jacob Lawrence, Seattle 2000, PL 73, p. 196, illustrated in color
Patricia Hills, Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence, Los Angeles 2009, p. 247, illustrated in color 

Catalogue Note

A fierce concoction of narrative painting, coded symbology, and sophisticated abstraction, Jacob Lawrence’s Menagerie from 1964 is emblematic of the artist’s unique stylistic synthesis, functioning as both a reflection and commentary on the artist’s world. The preeminent social chronicler of the twentieth century, Jacob Lawrence painted the present work in the year he and his wife traveled to Nigeria, reveling in the cultural sights and street life there.  In Menagerie, the artist depicts a brutal event: two figures preside over a fowl slaughter, grimacing as caged animals look on from afar. Painted in a visual style that oscillates between a highly descriptive figuration and a more coded, planar cubism, Menagerie exemplifies how Lawrence applied Modernist “techniques to the exploration of contemporary complaint” (Robert Colescott quoted in Lowery Stokes Sims, “The Structure of Narrative” in Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, Seattle 2000, p. 202). Visually layered, in the present work, form is subsumed by color, which in turn is bound in by formal restraints.  Lawrence complicates his gruesome scene through the use of abstract pictorial strategies, using fractured geometry and graphic, angular boundaries to compress and distort space. The two human subjects of the painting are perpetrating the intense violence in the artist’s composition, yet are bound in by this geometry, constrained by washes of color and the same cage-like compositional structures which ensconce the animals behind them. Lawrence began each painting with a detailed under drawing, and that hidden structure is evident in the angular lines and the ornate visual layering in the present work.

The artist is best known for his sweeping depictions of black experience, most notably the Great Migration series, now shared between the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In that series, the artist depicted the movement of African-Americans from the rural South to the Industrialized North after Reconstruction, recording an under acknowledged collective history for posterity. The present work exemplifies that poignant thread, embodied by the Great Migration series, and which permeates the artist’s entire oeuvre. More than just a depiction of a specific moment or distinct set of characters, the present work “[functions] for both the artist and the viewer on nonverbal levels of understanding, via their communication of emotions, moods, and dreams, rather than of specific ideas, accounts or truths” (Richard J. Powell, “Harmonizer of Chaos: Jacob Lawrence at Mid-Century” in Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, Seattle 2000, p. 152).