Jacob Lawrence painting missing for decades found, heads to Seattle for exhibit
KNKX’s Ed Ronco chats with Lydia Gordon, Associate Curator of the Peabody Essex Museum, about the discovery of a long-gone Jacob Lawrence panel.
The Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts announced Tuesday that a second panel from the comprehensive series “Struggle: From the History of the American People” by American artist Jacob Lawrence, which has not been open to the public for decades, is on display.
The painting known as panel 28 with the official title “Immigrants from all countries: 1820 to 1840 – 115,773” had not been on public display since 1960 and was only known through a black and white reproduction.
“We are very excited to receive news of this important discovery, especially at a time when Americans are actively promoting democracy,” said Lydia Gordon, the museum’s assistant curator, in a statement. The Salem, Massachusetts-based Peabody Essex Museum organized the exhibition.
The painting will now be used, along with nearly 30 other works by the black artist painted in the 1950s, for the final two stops on a national tour of Seattle and Washington, DC, museum officials said. The 30-part series remains incomplete as the whereabouts of three panels remains a mystery, the museum said.
The 12 by 16 inch plaque was found in an apartment in New York City, along with another painting in the series, Panel 16, that was rediscovered in another house in October. The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, inherited panel 28 from his family, who – like the figures shown – were immigrants.
The egg tempera on hardboard in bright reds and yellows shows two women in handkerchiefs clutching babies, one of whom is breastfeeding, and a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a flower pot with a single red rose, America’s national flower Hand holding. The motifs have oversized hands that symbolize what it means to arrive with just what can be worn, the museum said.
It was inspired by a table of immigration statistics published in Richard B. Morris’ Encyclopedia of American History.
“Lawrence created this work during the modern civil rights era to interpret key moments in the American Revolution and the early decades of the Republic as ongoing struggles,” said Gordon.
Lawrence, who was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917, was a professor at the University of Washington for 16 years. He died in Seattle on June 9, 2000.
The panel has been restored and will be part of the Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle exhibition on Friday March 5th at the Seattle Art Museum. The exhibition runs in Seattle through May 23, and then at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC from June 26 to September 19.
It is the first time in more than 60 years that the pieces have been shown together.
Museum officials hope that the discovery of panels 28 and 16 will lead to the discovery of the three panels that are still missing.
KNKX employees contributed to this report.