BUYERS AT THURSDAY’S African-American Fine Art auction at Swann Auction Galleries in New York expressed significant interest in modern and contemporary painting. There was a broad selection to choose from with multiple offerings by celebrated painters Ed Clark, Beauford Delaney, Sam Gilliam, Lois Mailou Jones, Norman Lewis, and Hughie Lee-Smith, among others.

The top lot was a painting by Henry O. Tanner. One of the earliest lots in the sale, Tanner’s “Flight Into Egypt” (above), a circa 1910 oil painting, reached $280,000 ($341,000 including fees). Paintings by Lewis, Gilliam, Elizabeth Catlett, and Lee-Smith rounded out the top five. “The Maestro,” a circa 1978 painting by Ernie Barnes sold for $38,000 ($47,500 including fees), setting an artist record.

“The Maestro,” a circa 1978 painting by Ernie Barnes sold for $38,000 ($47,500 including fees), setting an artist record.

The sale total for the Oct. 5 auction was $2,750,585, a moderate result against a sale estimate of $2,283,500-$3,371,000 (figures include fees). Swann offered 154 lots and sold 124 lots—an 81 percent sell-through rate.

Modern and contemporary artists were represented in the sale—historic figures such as Tanner and Edward Bannister; stalwarts including Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Catlett; and mid-career standouts Julie Mehretu, Lorna Simpson, and Kara Walker. A range of mediums was offered, including prints, photography and sculpture, but paintings spanning figuration, landscape, and abstraction, dominated the auction.

At the start of the sale, the withdrawal of Lot 87, a 1974 work by Al Loving, was announced. The brightly colored cube painting was consigned by a Detroit collector.

Among the top lots, a Lewis painting on an unusual surface made a strong showing. The artist’s 1960 “Untitled (Procession Composition),” an oil painting on marbleized bronze, surpassed its $100,000-$150,000 estimate, yielding $190,000 ($233,000 including fees).

Two other top lots far exceeded their estimates, soaring into six figures. “War Worker,” a 1943 painting by Catlett was estimated to sell for $60,000-$90,000 and realized $120,000 ($149,000 including fees), a record for the artist in the medium. Primarily recognized for her sculpture and printmaking, the painting is only the second by Catlett to come to auction, according to Swann. Gilliam’s 1973 painting “Rubiyat” was bid up to twice its estimate. The 1973 beveled edge painting sold for $155,000 ($191,000 including fees), against an estimate of $60,000-$90,000.

A number of other works also drew sustained interest, exceeding their estimates. Among them, “Lady with Fan II” by Eldzier Cortor, Catlett’s 1960 “Cabeza Cantando (Singing Head),” and Charles White’s 1968 “I Have A Dream Series, #11 (Study for the Wall),” a round oil painting on illustration board.

By contrast, other important works by White underperformed. “Take My Mother Home” (1957), a powerful, life-sized pen and ink drawing carried an estimate of $250,000-$350,000. One of the most anticipated lots in the sale, the monumental work went unsold. A pair of circa 1939 figurative paintings by White, including the cover lot “Untitled (Seated Woman),” barely met their estimate. The “extremely scarce examples of oil monotype” by the artist, “the first to ever to come to auction,” each sold for $11,000 ($13,750 including fees) against an estimate of $10,000-$15,000. White is the subject of a 2018 retrospective organized by the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Take My Mother Home” (1957), a powerful, life-sized pen and ink drawing carried an estimate of $250,000-$350,000. One of the most anticipated lots in the sale, the monumental work went unsold.


Lot 38: CHARLES WHITE (1918 – 1979), “Take My Mother Home,” 1957 (pen and Chinese ink, colored inks and wash on illustration board, 56 x 30 inches). | Estimate $250,000-$350,000. UNSOLD

 

Other key offerings hovered near low estimates or went unsold. “Jihad Nation” by Nelson Stevens, was described by Swann as “the first important painting and AfricCOBRA art work by the artist to come to auction.” The 1970 painting was estimated to sell for $50,000-$75,000 and garnered $40,000 ($50,000 including fees).

An early, circa 1958 abstract painting by Alma Thomas, “Etude in Brown (Saint Cecilia at the Organ),” was estimated at $75,000-$100,000 and went unsold. Paintings by Palmer Hayden, Aaron Douglas, Richard Mayhew, and James A. Porter, also didn’t to sell.

“Sharecropper” (circa 1952), an iconic image by Catlett, printed in 1970, failed to find a buyer. Three portraits by Delaney also went unsold, while other lots by the artist drew tepid bids, barely broaching low estimates.

Meanwhile, “Untitled (Youths on a Lakeshore),” a 1952 painting by Lee-Smith depicting a “magnificent lakeside scene,” was expected to realize $100,000-$150,000, but sold for $75,000 ($93,750 including fees). Although the price was less than anticipated, the lot was the fifth most expensive in the sale. Another work by the artist attracted multiple bidders. “Interlude,” a 1991 painting by Lee-Smith was estimated at $20,000-$30,000 and was bid up to $44,000 ($55,000 including fees).

In addition to the high marks reached by Barnes and Catlett, “The Awakening of Africa (Africa Awakening)” (1959), a cast bronze sculpture by Richmond Barthé, sold for $70,000 ($87,500 including fees), an artist record.

Finally, Swann noted a number of prized works were purchased by institutions. These acquisitions included the top lot, Tanner’s “Flight into Egypt,” and works by Catlett, Edward Bannister, Emma Amos, Columbus Knox and Carrie Mae Weems. CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Lot 4: HENRY OSSAWA TANNER (1859 – 1937), “Flight into Egypt,” circa 1910 (oil on linen canvas). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $280,000 ($341,000 including fees)

 

DISCLOSURE: Culture Type was invited to join a panel discussion at Swann Auction Galleries in advance of its fall African-American Fine Art sale. On Oct. 3, I participated in a conversation with collector Robert E. Holmes and Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-America Fine Art department, about new voices in African American art.

 


Lot 48: NORMAN LEWIS (1909 – 1979), “Untitled (Procession Composition),” 1960 (oil on marbelized slate). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $190,000 ($233,000 including fees)

 


Lot 88: SAM GILLIAM (1933 – ), “Rubiyat,” 1973 (acrylic and flocking on cotton canvas). | Estimate $60,000-$90,000. Sold for $155,000 ($191,000 including fees)

 


Lot 20: ELIZABETH CATLETT (1915 – 2012), “War Worker,” 1943 (tempera on paper, mounted to masonite board). | Estimate $60,000-$90,000. Sold for $120,000 ($149,000 including fees)

 


Lot 31: HUGHIE LEE-SMITH, “Untitled (Youths on a Lakeshore).” 1952 (oil on masonite board). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $75,000 ($93,750 including fees)

 


Lot 95: ERNIE BARNES (1938 – 2009), “The Maestro,” circa 1978 (acrylic on cotton canvas, with artist built frame). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $38,000 ($47,500 including fees) RECORD

 


Lot 68: CHARLES WHITE (1918 – 1979), “I Have A Dream Series, #11 (Study for the Wall),” 1968 (oil on thick illustration board). | Estimate $35,000-$50,000. Sold for $65,000 ($81,250 including fees)

 


COVER Lot 14: CHARLES WHITE (1918 – 1979), “Untitled (Seated Woman),” circa 1939 (oil monotype on cream wove paper). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $11,000 ($13,750 including fees)

 


Lot 115: ED CLARK (1926 – ), “Untitled,” 1989 (acrylic on cotton canvas). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $16,000 ($20,000 including fees)

 


Lot 150: ELDZIER CORTOR (1916 – 2015), “Lady with Fan II, ” 2005 (oil on linen canvas). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $60,000 ($75,000 including fees)

 


Lot 43: ALMA W. THOMAS (1891 – 1978), “Etude in Brown (Saint Cecilia at the Organ),” circa 1958 (oil on linen canvas). | Estimate $75,000-$100,000. UNSOLD

 


Lot 69: BERNARD HARMON (1935 – 1989), “Musician Boy,” 1968 (oil on masonite board). | Estimate $5,000-$7,000. Sold for $13,000 ($16,250 including fees)

 


Lot 78: NELSON STEVENS (1938 – ), “Jihad Nation,” 1970 (acrylic on cotton canvas). | Estimate $50,000-$75,000. Sold for $40,000 ($50,000 including fees)

 


Lot 81: WADSWORTH JARRELL (1929 – ), “Midnight Poet at 125th Street & Lenox,” 1979 (acrylic on linen canvas). | Estimate $25,000-$35,000. Sold for $20,000 ($25,000 including fees)

 


Lot 85: COLUMBUS KNOX (1923 – 1999), “Street Girl,” 1989 (acrylic on linen canvas). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $20,000 ($25,000 including fees)

 


Lot 54: LARRY POTTER (1925 – 1966), “The Edge,” circa 1962 (oil on linen canvas). | Estimate $8,000-$12,000. Sold for $7,000 ($8,750 including fees) RECORD

 

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