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Jacob Lawrence’s painting series on Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture to be conserved thanks to $1m grant

The Amistad Research Center (ARC)in New Orleans—the US’s oldest and most comprehensive independent archive specialising in African American history and culture—has received a $1m grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to conserve Jacob Lawrence’s 1938 series The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. The grant will also support a future exhibition of the works.

The series, completed when Lawrence was only 21 years old, consists of 41 paintings depicting scenes from the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. The hero of the Haitian Revolution, L’Ouverture led the first and only successful uprising of enslaved people in modern history, resulting in the Caribbean nation’s independence from France in 1804. L’Ouverture did not live to see the victory; he died while imprisoned in France in 1803.

The first example of what would later become Lawrence’s signature narrative style, the series was called “one of the most important” and “symbolic” works of its time by the Harlem Renaissance writer and philosopher Alain Locke. ARC, which has an extensive art collection, owns the Toussaint L’Ouverture series, but has kept it in storage since it was last on public view at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2010.

“Fortifying our abilities to preserve our extensive visual-art collection and archival holdings is a critical step in our efforts to make this material readily available to independent researchers, scholars and the public,” Kathe Hambrick, the executive director of ARC, said in a statement. “This allows for serious and widespread study of artists representing the full depth and range of the American experience.”

A series of screen prints that the artist created in the 1980s based on his 41 original paintings is scattered in collections throughout the US. Fifteen of the prints entered the collection of Maine’s Colby College Museum of Art in 2020.

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