Lightning Strikes Twice: Another Lost Jacob Lawrence Surfaces

When a nurse on the Upper West Side checked App for neighborhood bulletin Last fall, she recently discovered a Jacob Lawrence painting in an apartment a few blocks away. It was one of five panels missing from the artist’s groundbreaking 30-panel series “Struggle: The History of the American People” Which was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art right in front of Central Park.

The name Jacob Lawrence rang a bell.

She walked to see a small figurative painting on the wall of her dining room, where she had been hanging for two decades, with her signature barely legible. It was a gift from her mother-in-law, who tapped in the gift Profile on the 1996 New York Times Lawrence To the back. Nurse, who looked only at the dust-shaking backstage, revealed to the app that Lawrence was a leading modernist painter of the 20th century – and one of the few black artists of his time to gain widespread recognition in the art world.

Can there be a lightning strike twice in just two weeks time? The woman told the story to her 20-year-old son, who had studied art in college, and quickly googled the Met’s exhibition. He found that a black and white photo of his very own painting was being used as a place holder for panel 28. It was titled “Migrants from all countries admitted: 1820 to 1840-115,773,” and the wall label read: “Location unknown” “

“It didn’t look anything special, honestly,” said the owner, who is in his late 40s and arrived in New York from Ukraine by 18. “The colors were so beautiful. It was a little worn. I passed it through the kitchen way a thousand times a day,” she said in a phone interview.

“I didn’t know I had a masterpiece,” she said.

After she connected the dots, she called the Met, but her messages went unchecked. For three days, her son suggested they take a bus on their motorbikes. His mother recalled: “I caught a young child at the information desk in the lobby and said, ‘Listen, nobody calls me back. I have this painting. Who do I need to talk to?'” After all, Modern And an administrator from the Department of Contemporary Art met him and asked the owner to email him pictures of his work – which he did from his phone on the spot.

By that evening, Randall Griffey and Sylvia Yount, co-curators of the Metall Lawrence Show, and Metab’s Paints Conservator, Isabelle Duvernois were making their second trip to an Upper West apartment apartment for two weeks to verify authenticity. A Lawrence painting that had not been seen publicly since the 1960s.

The nurse, who agreed to lend her painting for the final two stops of the traveling exhibition, was given anonymity because she said she was concerned for the safety of her family, who is now living with a valuable artwork. was. The panel will start on 5 March Seattle Art Museum “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” and will remain to watch on May 23.

before Panel 16 discovery, first reported by The New York Times On October 21, the Met’s team learned only about the title and theme of the work – Shes rebellion – But there was no image to help validate it. Griffe recalled the first panel’s revelation as “a great bright spot” for the professional and epidemic-weary city. “It turned out to be a good story of a season in need of feel-good stories,” he said.

Along with panel 28, he had a low-quality photograph of the work, which was displayed in the gallery of Charles Allen, a dealer in Lawrence in the late 1950s.

Painting in vivid red, gold and brown tempering on the hardboard, the two women are seen draped in a shawl that flank a man in a wide-brimmed hat, with their heads bowed and hands bowed towards the center of the image. can be seen. The panel, provoking travelers from the Old World, was inspired by immigration figures Richard B. Morris 1953 “Encyclopedia of American History, “Is part of Lawrence’s research on the fundamental contributions of immigrants, blacks, and Native Americans to nation-building. (He specifically refers to the number of immigrants in the title who lived in the United States during the early years of the 19th century Had come.)

The “Struggle” series, which he carried out stylistically from 1954–56, expresses cubist forms in stereotyped compositions. This was a break with earlier work such as “The Migration Series” (1940–41), which was painted with simple colors.

While Panel 16 dominated the palette in stunning blues and pristine condition, could immediately join the traveling exhibition for its last days on the Mate, Panel 28 required some flare and lost paint and protection to stabilize it. was. Griff gave Baton to his allies Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., Where the show originated.

“We think Lawrence inadvertently used some poor tubes of paint because there are certain colors, including red and brown, where the adhesive quality seems defective in works built in 1956,” Lydia Gordon, of the exhibition at Peabody Essex Said the coordinator. The museum collaborated with the Seattle Art Museum and Philips Collection in Washington, The last stop of the exhibition, paying for the treatment of panel 28 ArtCare Protection in New York.

When the new painting was unrecognized in the conservation laboratory, an alternate title, “Emigrants – 1821–1830 (106,308)” appeared in the handwriting on Lawrence’s back. “He wrote the word ‘amigants’ with an ‘e’, ​​which we all thought was really interesting because it marked the advent of the idea of ​​sustainability,” Gordon said.

The owner’s son first pointed out that the curator’s description of panel 28 needed to be revised in the wall text: what looked like a prayer book in the hands of a male figure in the grainy picture was actually with a flower in red. Rose, the official flower of the United States. In the painting a nursing child in a woman’s arms was completely obscured in black and white reproduction.

“We are now able to see much more of this hope and optimism – this symbol of the fragile life that is growing in new space for these people who have been emitted,” Gordon said.

“Struggle” was only one of Lawrence’s 10 series that was not retained. Public institutions were not receptive to their expanding and racially integrated narrative of American history in the 1950s. “We know from the collection that its dealer Charles allen Wrote all these letters to major institutions and nobody wanted to touch it, ”Gordon said.

After exhibiting the series twice in his gallery, Allen sold “Struggle” to New York collector, William Meyers, who quickly dispersed the panel. Met curator Griffe speculated that Meyers may have offered Panel 16 at a local Christmas art auction, where the Upper West Side couple (who also requested anonymity) bought it in 1960 for $ 100.

The owner of Panel 28 does not know how his mother-in-law, who immigrated from Poland, brought up her family on the upper west side and acquired the painting by creating a wide range of inexpensive artifacts. “I think my mother-in-law did not pay more than $ 100,” she said. “Are they likely to be bought in the same auction? I think there is a very good chance. “

When Lawrence’s List was published in 2000, the location of seven of the 30 panels in the “Struggle” series was unknown. Collector Harvey ross, Who started taking pictures still in private hands in 1996, was thrilled when his wife was seen Panel 3 – “Rally Mohawks!” Title – Christie’s auctioned in 2008.

“I was surprised, because nothing had happened in decades,” said Ross, who bought the panel for $ 206,500, the low end of the estimate of $ 200,000 to $ 300,000. Ten years later, at Swan Auction Galleries, they wreaked havoc Panel 19, titled “Tension on the High Seas”. By a property in Florida, paid more than four times its high estimate – for $ 413,000. (The auction price for a work by Lawrence, in 2018, is over $ 6.1 million for “The Businessman”, a major painting from 1947.)

Ross has lent his 15 panels of “Struggle” to the exhibition and intends to work with scholars developing educational curricula based on the series.

The nurse, who owns panel 28, said she would consider selling it. (The couple, who own Panel 16, are not interested in selling at this time, according to Gordon, Peabody Essex curator.)

Panel 14, Panel 20 And Panel 29 remain at large. Peabody Essex has set up email Missingness To make it easier for people to share information. Gordon is raising his hopes on Lawrence’s alumni and the vast community of assistant galleries and curators in Seattle, where Painter lived after leaving New York for the last three decades of his life.

“Oh, we’re totally going to find them!” He said firmly.

Residents of the West Coast, check your walls on the way to the kitchen.

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