For anyone who loves art, it’s not unusual that someone might find a painting or a sculpture in an attic or a garage, and think it might be worth something. Of course, not usually, but in the news this week, there are numerous articles about two New York residents who each discovered that they had a Jacob Lawrence painting in their home.
The woman with the second painting, “learned about the recent discovery of a Jacob Lawrence painting in an apartment a few blocks away. It had turned out to be one of five panels long missing from the artist’s groundbreaking 30-panel series ‘Struggle: From the History of the American People,’ which was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right across Central Park.”
The story in The New York Times has the best paragraphs ever:
“ ‘It didn’t look like anything special, honestly,’ said the owner, who is in her late 40s and arrived in New York from Ukraine at 18. ‘The colors were pretty. It was a little bit worn. I passed by it on my way to the kitchen a thousand times a day,’ she said in a phone interview.
“ ‘I didn’t know I had a masterpiece,’ she added.
“After she had connected the dots, she called the Met, but her messages went unreturned. By day three, her son suggested they just head over on his motorbike. His mother recalled: ‘I grabbed a young kid 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? ” ‘Eventually, an administrator from the modern and contemporary art department met them downstairs and asked the owner to email her photos of the work — which she did on the spot, from her phone.”
So, yes, walking back and forth going to the kitchen, the woman figured out the second painting: Sometimes we do find amazing paintings somewhere. Especially, when it is a Jacob Lawrence, an artist who had chronicled in paint the Great Migration, people moving from the south to the north, overcoming their own struggles.
Reading that story – and stories in artnews.com and news.artnet.com – it suddenly reminded me of a series of Jacob Lawrence works in 1995 at the Denver Art Museum. So I dug out a review that is squirreled away in the Denver Public Library’s research area. (“The Struggle” series in New York and Washington, D.C., was painted by Lawrence after “The Migration Series,” with a different stylistic approach.)
So, in a review of “The Migration Series” at the DAM:
“Seen reproduced in a catalog or on a brochure, the scenes in Lawrence’s episodic depiction of one of the United States’ defining demographic moments have a raw, emotional power that subconsciously signals large work. Large they are, but not in size.
” ‘The Migration Series,’ ” on view through Sept. 10 at the Denver Art Museum, is work that Lawrence made in 1940 and 1941 in the waning days of the Harlem Renaissance.”
As I read that old story, when Lawrence was still alive (he passed in 2000), it was interesting how the 60 “Migration” paintings were divvied up:
“Years ago, ‘The Migration Series’ was divided into two collections, the Phillips in Washington, D.C. (which bought the even-numbered pieces), and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (which bought the odd).”
At the end of The New York Times story, the writer noted that perhaps people on the West Coast should check what they have around the house; after all, Lawrence taught at the University of Washington, so…
The image at the top of this post credits this: The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Amr Alfiky/The New York Times.