One New York City Nurse Discovered a Long-Lost Famous Painting Inside Her Own Home

Last fall, a Manhattan nurse and her 20-year-old son rode a motorcycle to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their purpose, however, was not to drink the two million works of art owned by the Met. Instead, they were on a mission to get someone or someone’s attention.

Three days before her trip through town, the nurse in question had heard of the discovery of a long-lost painting by Jacob Lawrence. The work was part of a series on view at the Met and was discovered just blocks from where she lived. Lawrence’s name sounded familiar. A painting in her own home had a hard-to-read signature of the same name and a 1996 article about Lawrence – one of the most famous black artists of the 20th century – on the back. After a quick Google search, her son found a picture of her painting that his mother had received from her mother-in-law, his grandmother.

Speaking to the New York Times earlier this week, the nurse reported on her subsequent trip to the Met: “I grabbed a little kid at the lobby information desk and said, ‘Look, nobody’s calling me back. I have this painting. Who do I need to speak to? “” Two curators and a restorer went to her apartment to see the work. The painting was indeed the real deal and an important part of Lawrence’s seminal series. It will now be on display later this week at the Seattle Art Museum, where Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle traveled.

The reason for the delay in the exhibition is mainly due to the conservation treatments required for the painting. However, this process brought with it a fair share of further discoveries. Once unframed, a title in Lawrence’s own handwriting – The Emigrants – 1821-1830 (106,308) – made itself felt. The nurse’s son also pointed out that what had previously been described as a prayer book was actually a pot of the United States’ red rose. A baby featured in the work could also be considered a new discovery as it was not clearly visible in the surviving black and white photo of the work.

For those intrigued by this story – as well as Lawrence’s impressive paintings – there is a chance that other chapters may still be in stock. After all, three additional panels from this series are still considered missing. “Oh, we’ll totally find her!” Curator Lydia Gordon told the Times. And now, thanks to the establishment of a new email address ([email protected]), reporting her whereabouts could be a little less difficult.

The painter Jacob Lawrence photographed in 1958 with another work in the background.

Photo: Robert W. Kelley / Getty Images

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