October 23, 2020

Jacob Lawrence Work Missing Since 1960 Discovered by Met Visitor

The 1956 painting believed to belong to Jacob Lawrence’s “Struggle” series. Photo: The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS).

NEW YORK—A painting from Jacob Lawrence’s thirty-panel 1954–56 series “Struggle: From the History of the American People” has been located by a visitor to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Times reported today. A woman attending the Met’s exhibition “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” noted that five panels were missing from the series and realized that her elderly neighbors might well be the possessors of one of them.

The visitor was correct: The couple, who live on New York’s Upper West Side, within walking distance of the museum, purchased the missing painting, a 1956 work depicting Shays’ Rebellion, at a friend’s auction benefiting a music school in 1960, and it has hung in their home since. The work is almost certainly panel 16 of the “Struggle” series, which illuminates scenes from American history with a focus on Black and Native American participation, as well as that of women.

“It is rare to make a discovery of this significance in modern art, and it is thrilling that a local visitor is responsible,” said Met director Max Hollein in a statement.

The series is the only one of ten by the celebrated Black artist that remains incomplete, and thus has not been much shown until landing at the Met. Paintings from the series, which was purchased in its entirety by a private collector in the late 1950s, were sold singly, as the original purchase was made with no stipulations regarding keeping the series together.

Thanks to its owners’ good care of the painting, panel 16 will be on view in the Jacob Lawrence retrospective at the Met through November 1. After that, it will travel with its companion works—and the exhibition—to the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Seattle Art Museum; and the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

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