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Gallery Text

A prodigy of the Harlem Renaissance, an influential cultural movement of the 1920s and ’30s, Lawrence forged a distinctive approach to painting that drew on elements of cubism and modern design to create scenes of everyday life as well as historical narratives. This kaleidoscopic composition depicts the dining room of an elegant mixed-race establishment, with a ventriloquist and a garishly dressed dummy sitting at the center. The work is one of a series of twelve paintings featuring performance-based themes that Lawrence made after an eleven-month hospitalization for psychiatric care. Some scholars have interpreted this painting as an expression of Lawrence’s illness and feelings of isolation. Others have seen it as one of many works in which Lawrence employs the mask motif, prominent in American art and culture in the 1950s, to investigate issues of African American race and identity, as well as the social anxieties fueled by Cold War politics.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Jacob Lawrence, American (Atlantic City, NJ 1917 - 2000 Seattle, WA)
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1330, Modern and Contemporary Art, New Images
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Physical Descriptions

Egg tempera over graphite underdrawing on gessoed hardboard
50.8 x 61 cm (20 x 24 in.)
framed: 76.5 x 85.4 x 7 cm (30 1/8 x 33 5/8 x 2 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.r.: Jacob Lawrence 52


Recorded Ownership History
[The Alan Gallery, New York], sold; to Joanne Stern, New York, (c. 1953-2007), sold; [through Christie's, New York]; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2008.

State, Edition, Standard Reference Number

Standard Reference Number
Nesbett P52-07

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Daniel A. Pollack, Class of 1960, American Art Acquisition Fund and gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stillman, Class of 1907, by exchange
© The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • Peter T. Nesbett, Jacob Lawrence: Paintings Drawings and Murals (1935-1999), A Catalogue Raisonne (2000), no. P52-07 (ill.), p. 122
  • Patricia Hills, Painting Harlem Modern: The Art of Jacob Lawrence, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA, 2009), p. 227, fig. 166, ill.

Exhibition History

  • Performance: A Series of New Paintings in Tempera by Jacob Lawrence, The Downtown Gallery, 01/27/1953 - 02/14/1953
  • Re-View: S118 European & American Art since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/13/2008 - 04/09/2011
  • Re-View: European and American Art Since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/03/2011 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 1330 Mid-Century Figurative, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 08/11/2017; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 04/05/2018 - 01/01/2050
  • Lines of Influence, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, 09/07/2017 - 02/04/2018

Verification Level

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