A long-lost painting by famed Black American modernist Jacob Lawrence is back on public display for the first time in decades.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced on Wednesday that a visitor to the museum realized that it had been in a neighbor’s collection for years and encouraged them to contact the museum.
The current owners bought the painting at a charity auction in 1960, the museum said.
The work, titled “There are combustibles in every State, which a spark might set fire to. — Washington, 26 December 1786” depicts the Shays’ Rebellion, an uprising of farmers in Massachusetts following the Revolutionary War, according to a news release.
It was number 16 in a series of 30 panels in Lawrence’s “Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56)” that represent historical moments from 1775 through 1817.
Its existence was known because it was described in the 1956 brochure for the first showing of “The Struggle” series in New York at the Alan Gallery. The panels were exhibited at the gallery again in 1958 and had not been seen together as a group until earlier this year when this exhibition debuted at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the statement said.
The Met says the locations of four other paintings from the series are still not known.
The painting was represented by an empty frame prior to the discovery, according to the statement.
“It is rare to make a discovery of this significance in modern art, and it is thrilling that a local visitor is responsible,” Met Director Max Hollein said in a statement.
“We are also very excited for our colleagues at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), the organizers of the exhibition that inspired this historic find. And most importantly, we are looking forward to having visitors enjoy this new addition — in these final two weeks at The Met and at the upcoming venues of the show.”
Lawrence, who lived from 1917 to 2000, was one of the first nationally recognized Black artists in the United States and his colorful, abstract work portrayed the experiences of African Americans, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Sotheby’s sold his 1947 painting “The Businessmen” for more than $6.1 million in a 2018 auction.
The series is on display until November 1, the Met said.
The painting will be included in the touring exhibition that will be presented in museums in Birmingham, Alabama; Seattle, Washington; and Washington, DC, through next fall.