It is the only one of Lawrence’s 10 series not preserved intact in public collections, which is partly why “Struggle” has been little known until now. In the late 1950s, the artist’s dealer, Charles Alan, showed “Struggle” twice at his gallery and approached multiple museums about acquisition — with no takers. It was the era of the McCarthy hearings, and Ms. Bailly, the curator, suggested that the incendiary politics of the time “played a role in the reception of this project.”
The series then was sold to a private collector, William Meyers, without any restrictions on keeping the panels together, which he soon began reselling piecemeal. “Early indications suggest that the first owner of the series may have offered Panel 16 to the art auction,” where the current owners purchased it in 1960, Mr. Griffey said. He added that details of the provenance still need to be firmly nailed down. (According to experts, a work of art purchased at a charity auction without provenance to back it up can be a problem for acquisition or resale.)
In 2000, at the publication of Lawrence’s catalog raisonné, six panels from “Struggle” were still unaccounted for. Then in 2017, in the midst of exhibition research, Panel 19, titled “Tensions on the High Seas” (1956), resurfaced. It sold at Swann Auction Galleries in 2018 for $413,000 (quadruple its high estimate of $100,000) to Harvey Ross, who now owns half the series and is the largest lender to the Met exhibition.
The auction high for a work by Lawrence is just over $6.1 million in 2018, for a 1947 painting, “The Businessmen.”
“Any new and important Jacob Lawrence that surfaces would be a candidate for selling in the seven figures,” said Eric Widing, deputy chairman, Americas, at Christie’s New York.
Barbara Haskell, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art who often shows Lawrence’s work, said the discovery of the missing panel is “really something to be celebrated,” adding that it was “very exciting to begin to pull this whole landmark series together and see it as Lawrence wanted it to be seen.”
But the whereabouts of four works remain unknown. Could lightning strike again?