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WHILE THE ART WORLD GATHERS IN MIAMI BEACH for Art Basel, those interested in work by African American artists should be attuned to what is happening in Chicago. Tomorrow Treadway Toomey Auctions is offering paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture by 74 black artists.

The group includes well-known 20th century figures Charles Alston, Richmond Barthe, Beauford Delaney, Palmer Hayden, Alma Thomas, Charles White and Hale Woodruff. These familiar names, popular with collectors, are presented alongside less-widely known but no less talented artists such as Selma Burke and Arthur Smith, who made sculptural jewelry. The sale also features two generations of contemporary artists still working today, Nick Cave, Sam Gilliam, Rashid Johnson and Betye Saar, among them.

The focus on African American art is part of a larger auction of more than 1,000 lots presented in four sessions. The Nov. 6 sale begins at 10 a.m. CST at John Toomey Gallery in Oak Park, Ill., and the works by artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Hughie Lee-Smith, Gordon Parks and Winfred Rembert will be offered in the third session.

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Lot 506: WALTER W. ELLISON, “Just Business,” circa 1940 (oil on paperboard). Estimate $30,000-$50,000. Sold for $67,100 including fees

While the Treadway Toomey has been selling art by African American artists for years, the auction house staged its first session with a substantial offering devoted to African American art earlier this year in June.

The current sale boasts a diverse roster. In addition to Hayden and Thomas, several artists represented were born in the 19th century including John Wesley Hardrick (1891-1968), Sargent Johnson (1888-1967) and William Edouard Scott (1884-1964). Others were born as late as the 1970s.

The auction house produced a special digital catalog featuring a biographical narrative about each of the artists and information on the lots, along with images, estimates and limited details about exhibition history and ownership provenance.

Thom Pegg, co-owner of Tyler Fine Art in St. Louis, serves as Treadway Toomey’s African American fine art specialist. In the introduction to the catalog, Pegg notes that the works were created between 1870 (Lot 40: “Landscape,” an oil on canvas by Charles Ethan Porter, 1845-1943) and 2005 and that prices range from $300 to the highest estimate of $80,000 (Lot 550: Bob Thompson’s “Allegorical Scene,” a circa 1959 oil on canvas).

The catalog (view below), which is organized in alphabetical order by artist, opens with Lot 507, a circa 1997 etching titled “Djuka Suite” by the late Terry Adkins (1953-2014).


Pegg describes Lot 506, “Just Business” by Walter Ellison (1900-1977) as the Georgia-born, Chicago artist’s most important work to come to auction. The circa 1940 painting depicts a church scene with men conducting a business transaction at the rear of the sanctuary (estimate $30,000-50,000).

Thom Pegg describes the painting “Just Business” by Walter W. Ellison as the Georgia-born, Chicago artist’s most important work to come to auction.

He also emphasizes the significance of Lot 529, “Young Woman’s Blues” by Rose Piper (1917-2005). Titled after a Bessie Smith song, Piper employs a geometric and curvilinear color-blocking style in the circa 1947 painting of a woman in a strapless blue dress sitting on what appears to be a cot in a sparsely appointed bedroom (estimate 20,000-30,000). A pair of ink drawings by Piper is also being offered. Born in New York, where she was educated and earned fellowships to study in France and the U.S. South, Piper struggled to balance her creative drive with the expectations placed on her to maintain a proper home and dote on her child.

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Lot 529: ROSE PIPER, “Young Woman’s Blues,” circa 1947 (oil on canvas). Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $39,650 including fees

The estate of artist Varnette P. Honeywood (1950-2010) commissioned works by Samella Lewis, Ruth G. Waddy, William Pajaud, James Phillips, John Thomas Riddle and several prints by Elizabeth Catlett. The estate of artist James Valentine (of no known relation to me), who died earlier this year, commissioned one of his photographs for sale, as well as sculptures by Darnell Harris, and a painting and four drawings he owned by Allen D. Carter, who studied under Valentine at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio.

Also of interest is Lot 650, a circa 1990 untitled work by Cave, an instructor at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. The collage and ink on paper work was created two years before the Rodney King verdict compelled him to make his first Soundsuit, the elaborate mixed-media sculptural costumes for which is most known.

Whether or not you are a collector in the market to buy, the catalog offers a useful guide to learn about artists who may not be familiar, and whose work may pique your interest and motivate you to research them further. CT

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Lot 577: WILLIAM EDWOUARD SCOTT, “Backyard,” circa 1940 (oil on canvas). Estimate $20,000-$30,000. UNSOLD

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Lot 650: NICK CAVE, “Untitled,” circa 1990 (collage and ink on paper). Estimate $5,000-$7,000. Sold for $6,100 including fees

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Lot 550: BOB THOMPSON, “Allegorical Scene,” circa 1959 (oil on canvas). Estimate $60,000-$80,000. Sold for 54,900 including fees

This post has been updated with final auction results. Unsold lots are being offered at flat rates below estimates here.

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