It is the only one of Lawrence’s 10 series not to be preserved intact in public collections, which is part of the reason why “Struggle” has so far been little known. At the end of the 1950s, the artist’s dealer, Charles Alain, has shown “Struggle” twice in his gallery and approached several museums about the acquisition – without a taker. It was the time of the McCarthy hearings, and Ms Bailly, the curator, suggested that the inflammatory politics of the time “played a role in the reception of this draft”.
The series was then sold to a private collector, William Meyers, with no restrictions on keeping the panels together, which he quickly began to sell on an ad hoc basis. “Early indications suggest that the original owner of the series may have offered Panel 16 at the art auction,” where the current owners purchased it in 1960, Griffey said. He added that the details of provenance have yet to be firmly defined. (According to experts, a piece of art purchased at a charity auction with no provenance to back it up can be a problem for acquisition or resale.)
In 2000, when Lawrence’s catalog raisonné was published, six “Struggle” panels were still missing. Then in 2017, in full search of exposure, Panel 19, titled “Tensions on the High Seas” (1956), resurfaced. It sold to the Swann Auction Galleries in 2018 for $ 413,000 (four times its high estimate of $ 100,000) at Harvey ross, who now owns half of the series and is the largest Met Show lender.
The auction 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 emerges would be a seven-figure sales candidate,” said Eric Widing, vice president, Americas, at Christie’s New York.
Barbara hakell, 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 celebrate,” adding that it was “very exciting to start putting this whole historic series together and to see how Lawrence wanted him to be seen.
But the fate of four works remains unknown. Could lightning strike again?