Swann 040716SIX BLACK ARTISTS made news recently when their work set sales records at Swann Auction Galleries. Paintings by Frank Bowling, Allan Freelon, Palmer Hayden, Felrath Hines, Wadsworth Jerrell, and Robert Neal, sold for record prices at Swann’s April 7 sale of African American fine art.

The artists, both modern and contemporary, have had notable and relatively accomplished careers. The first gold medal awarded by the Harmon Foundation, an early supporter of African American artists, went to Hayden in 1926. Hines was a member of Spiral Group, the historic artist collective co-founded by Romare Barden in 1963.

Born in Guyana, British-trained Bowling was elected to the Royal Academy of Art in 2005, the first black artist to be so recognized in the institution’s 200-year history. Jarrell, a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement, co-founded African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists in 1969. Commonly referred to as AFRICOBRA, the Chicago-based group expressed its politics through art.

Born in Guyana, British-trained Bowling was elected to the Royal Academy of Art in 2005, the first black artist to be so recognized in the institution’s 200-year history.

SINCE 2006, Swann has been holding sales devoted to African American fine art. Twice a year the New York auctions feature the work of 20th century artists and increasingly examples by contemporary figures. Over the years, well-known artists such as Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis and Charles White, have been mainstays.

More recently, multiple paintings and works on paper by Lewis, the late abstract painter whose first museum retrospective debuted last fall at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (and opens June 4 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas), have appeared regularly and covered the April catalog.

Top lots at Swann’s auction last month included Faith Ringgold’s “Double Dutch on the Golden Gate Bridge,” 1988 (acrylic on canvas with painted, dyed and pieced fabric). The story quilt sold for $209,000 (including fees). An untitled Lewis painting from 1947 brought $149,000 (including fees). Meanwhile, “Untitled (Young Man in a Slum),” a 1960 painting by Hughie-Lee Smith yielded $106,250 (including fees). None of the prices were record breakers.

Hovering below this range, the new artist records were in the five figures. Nonetheless, interest in African American art continues to gain traction and increasing values in their markets may indicate collectors and museums are recognizing a wider slate of African American artists long familiar to scholars and many curators.

 

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Lot 87: FRANK BOWLING (1936 – ), “Irv Sandler’s Visit,” 1977 (acrylic on cotton canvas). | Estimate $35,000-$50,000. Sold for $81,250 (including fees) RECORD

With a title referencing the New York-based art historian and critic Irving Sandler, according to Swann, this painting is the first canvas from Frank Bowling’s 1970s “poured paintings” series to come to auction. It sold for well above the estimate.

 

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Lot 1: ALLAN FREELON (1895 – 1960), “Baiting Trawls,” circa 1930-1935 (oil on linen canvas). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $37,500 (including fees) RECORD

“Baiting Trawls” is the “finest and largest work” by Allan Freelon to be commissioned for sale at Swann. According to the auction house, the painting was most likely executed after Freelon studied at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia from 1927-1930. A longtime teacher, about a decade later Freelon was appointed director of art in the Philadelphia public schools and in subsequent years taught at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

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Lot 11: ROBERT NEAL (1916 – 1989), “Untitled (Fisherman’s House at River’s Edge),” circa 1939 (oil on linen canvas). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $27,500 (including fees) RECORD

According to Swann, “This outstanding 1930s painting is a wonderful discovery – the first artwork by this painter and muralist to come to auction. A native of Atlanta, Robert Neal was a student of Hale Woodruff’s and became his studio assistant at Spelman College, working on the Talladega College Amistad murals in 1939.”

 

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Lot 34: FELRATH HINES (1913 – 1993), “Bouquet,” 1957 (oil on burlap canvas). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $27,500 (including fees) RECORD

Abstract painter Felrath Hines studied design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., and had a long career as a conservator at several institutions including the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. According to Swann, this painting is the largest by the artist to be offered at auction.

 

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Lot 46: PALMER HAYDEN (1890 – 1973), “The Blue Nile,” 1964 (watercolor and gouache on thick wove paper). | Estimate $35,000-$50,000. Sold for $42,500 (including fees) RECORD

“The Blue Nile” was featured in “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” the landmark traveling exhibition organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1976. Swann describes the watercolor as one of Palmer Hayden’s “most evocative” and “best known” paintings.

 

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Lot 68: WADSWORTH JARRELL (1929 – ), “The Messengers,” 1979 (acrylic on cotton canvas). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $27,500 (including fees) RECORD

Cleveland, Ohio-based Wadsworth Jerrell has taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Georgia in Athens. According to Swann, this painting is “his largest and first work on canvas from his important 1970s period to come to auction.” Despite its significance and the fact that it set an artist record, the painting sold below the estimate. CT

 

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