After 60 Years Lost, An Important Painting Is Found Hanging in an UWS Apartment

Jacob Lawrence. A panel showing an uprising of Massachusetts farmers, part of Struggle: From the History of the American People, 1954–56. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen.

By Carol Tannenhauser

In the mid 1950s, against the backdrop of McCarthyism, the Cold War and Jim Crow, the renowned 20th Century American artist Jacob Lawrence painted “Struggle: From the History of the American People.” A series of 30 panels, it portrays key events of the American Revolution in a more inclusive manner, much as the Black Lives Matter movement does today.

When “Struggle” first went on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in late August, there were five panels missing. Now, there are four, thanks to an Upper West Side woman who saw the exhibit and thought that one of the missing panels might be hanging in her neighbors’ apartment.

It turns out her neighbors, an elderly couple, have owned the panel for 60 years, purchasing it at a charity art auction in 1960. It was authenticated by the Met and found to be in such good condition that it did not even require a cleaning before it was hung last Wednesday, in a space that had been held for it, a press release said.

“Lawrence’s work will come to be seen as a juggernaut among American historical documents,” wrote New York Times art critic Yinka Elujoba. “But the most powerful inclusions are the blank panels, whose content remains unknown. Positioning themselves as blind spots, they remind us that, when it comes to history, nobody has the full picture.”

This is the first time the “Struggle” panels have been shown together in more than 60 years.

“…this African-American artist expanded the confines of how the American Revolution and the early decades of the republic are considered,” added Elujoba.

Met curators Randall Griffey and Sylvia Yount said, in a press release, that the new addition “…reinforces the overall theme of the series — democratic change is possible only through the actions of engaged citizens — an argument as timely today as it was when the artist produced his radical paintings in the mid 1950s.”

The exhibition will run through November 1st, before taking off for Birmingham, Alabama. Click here to learn the procedures and protocols for visiting the Met during the pandemic. And keep your eyes open. The curators are hoping more panels will turn up in the last two weeks of the show.

ART, NEWS | 7 comments | permalink
    1. TERENCE says:

      My wife and I had planned earlier in the week to go to the Met Thursday Oct. 22 because the 70 degree weather meant we could enjoy the rooftop art installation.

      But after reading the NYT piece about this “found panel”, we made it a point to go see it and can highly recommend that UWSers try to get there in the next week before the show closes. Visually powerful and thematically very timely display by a black artist who deserves to be better known. Allow 45 minutes to see the 30 panels.

      Hopefully by next season when we go to the rooftop of the Met, they will resume their cocktail offerings ;>)

    2. JS says:

      This is an interesting story. Thanks Carol.

    3. ksf says:

      glad found and well done!!


    4. Lynn says:

      I was not going to see the exhibition because I had seen the Jacob Lawrence exhibition at MoMA a few years ago, but the NYT article about the newly found painting made me want to see the show before it ends on November 1st.

    5. Bob Lamm says:

      For those who love Jacob Lawrence’s work, you can not only see this exhibition currently at the Met. In a development that I haven’t seen publicized much, 10 of the 60 panels of his extraordinary Migration Series (about the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the Northeast and Midwest) are on the 5th floor of the Whitney. These panels are owned by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and are rarely shown in New York City. Tney’re terrific. The Museum of Modern Art owns half of the 60 panels and the Phillips owns the other half.

    6. UWSmaven says:

      Great story! But what about the “elderly couple” that owns it? Will they keep possession of it? It must be worth hundreds of thousands now… and they had NO idea?

    7. betty Samuels says:

      My uncle was William meyers mentioned in the article who bought several paintings and sold them..As a young boy he used to go to museums.He had an eye for good art.