Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle Exhibition Tour Leads to Discovery of a Second Missing Painting

  • SALEM, Massachusetts
  • /
  • March 03, 2021

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Jacob Lawrence panel, “Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820-1840—115,773,” was discovered in a Manhattan home where it hung for two decades. The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Peabody Essex Museum

A painting by celebrated 20th-century American artist, Jacob Lawrence, that had been previously unlocated for more than sixty years has been discovered and will join the 5-stop national exhibition tour of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, organized by the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). Panel 28 is one of 30 that comprise Lawrence’s powerful epic series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56), and it will be reunited with the series’ other works for the final exhibition tour stops at the Seattle Art Museum (March 5 - May 23, 2021) and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. (June 26 - September 19, 2021).

This announcement follows the discovery of Panel 16 in October, 2020. The location of three remaining paintings from Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series, Panel 14Panel 20, and Panel 29, remain unknown. It is the museums’ hope that the increased awareness of Jacob Lawrence’s work will help fully reunite this historic painting series for the first time since 1960. Any tips or information about the location of Panels 14, 20 and 29 may be sent to: missingpanels@pem.org

Until its recent discovery in a New York City apartment, Panel 28 had not been seen publicly for decades and was known through a black-and-white reproduction. The painting, called Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840—115,773, was inspired by a table of immigration statistics published in Richard B. Morris’s Encyclopedia of American History (1953), one of Lawrence’s sources of inspiration for the Struggle series. The gathered figures in Lawrence’s painting portray a message of hope and promise: a shawled woman cradles and nurses an infant baby while a brimmed hat man in the middle clutches a pot of a single rose—America’s national flower. Lawrence exaggerated the size of the hands to symbolize what it meant to arrive only with what could be carried.

“We are thrilled to share news of this important discovery, especially at a time when Americans are actively engaged with democracy,” said Lydia Gordon, PEM’s Associate Curator and the exhibition’s coordinating curator. “Lawrence created this body of work during the modern civil rights era to interpret pivotal moments in the American Revolution and early decades of the republic as ongoing struggles. Against the backdrop of the recent attack on the Capitol coupled with the welcoming of a new Presidential administration, Lawrence’s work encourages us to look to history and to art so we may understand America as a cyclical project of struggle and hope.”

Panel 28 has generously been lent to the national exhibition tour by its owner, who wishes to remain anonymous. The owner inherited the painting through family members who, like the figures depicted in the painting, were themselves immigrants to America. [Read more about the owner, a New York nurse, and her story.]

Tags: american art

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