BEAUFORD DELANEY, “Untitled (Village Street Scene),” 1948

 

APPLAUSE SWEPT THROUGH THE SALESROOM when a colorful mid-career canvas by Norman Lewis soared to $725,000*, three times the estimate. Bidders also clapped when a village street scene painted by Beauford Delaney (above) and “O Freedom,” a large-scale charcoal and crayon drawing by Charles White reached half a million dollars.

Swann Auction Galleries held its biannual African-American Fine Art sale on April 5 and prime lots by Delaney, White, Hale Woodruff, and William H. Johnson rocketed past their high estimates, setting artist’s records. At least 12 artists achieved new benchmarks. The top lot, an untitled abstraction by Lewis, was bid up to the second-highest price paid at auction for a work by the late artist.

“Everything in this auction came together—the high caliber of these sought-after artworks and the interests of the market,” said Nigel Freeman, Swann’s director of African-American Fine Art. He added that several of the new records were particularly significant. Previous records for Delaney, Johnson, White and Woodruff had been on the books for about a decade.

The overall sales total was $4,509,540, a Swann record, not just for a sale in its African-American Fine Art department, but for the entire auction house over the course of its more than 75-year history. The new benchmark is a remarkable feat and signals the strength of the market for works by modern and contemporary African American artists, which remains largely undervalued after generations of under-recognition.

The overall sales total was $4,509,540, a Swann record, not just for its sales of African American art, but for the entire auction house over the course of its more than 75-year history.


Lot 45: NORMAN LEWIS (1909-1979), “Untitled, 1956 (oil on linen canvas, 34 x 50 inches). | Estimate $150,000-$250,000. Sold for $725,000 including fees ($600,000 hammer)

 

The success of the sale also brings attention to the African-American Fine Art department’s contribution to auction house’s bottom line. A third-generation family business, Swann was established in 1941. Initially focusing on rare and vintage books, today it is recognized for its specialty in works on paper.

Swann holds about 40 sales a year and its previous most successful auction was more than a dozen years ago when the Old Master Through Modern Prints sale on Nov. 3, 2005, reached $4,195,758**. Incredibly, that auction included 827 lots. By contrast, the April 5 African-American Fine Art sale had just 160 lots, which is in the standard range for the department.

Swann sales dedicated to African American art were introduced in 2007 and in the decade since increasing numbers of works by black artists have been offered at larger auction houses as interest in African American art attracts a wider base of U.S. and international collectors and institutions eager to address deficits and broaden their representation. Swann’s ability to continue to draw quality consignments is a testament to its notable sales record, department expertise, and loyal client base, among both buyers and sellers.

The catalog cover lot, one of two Jitterbug screen prints by William H. Johnson, brought nearly three times the estimate. A rare early painting by Elizabeth Catlett, “Head of a Woman (Woman),” realized $209,000. The Catlett painting was among the top 10 lots in the sale (No. 7). The lone female artist in the upper ranks, she was followed by Faith Ringgold (No. 27), Lois Mailou Jones (No. 29), and Artis Lane (No. 37).

“Tension on the High Seas” (Panel No. 19) by Jacob Lawrence was among the most anticipated lots featured in the auction. Between 1954-56, Lawrence made 30 paintings in his “Struggle” series about the history of the United States. Early on, the suite was separated and sold off. Five panels are in museums and another 12 are in a private collection. Five works from the narrative have been unseen for decades, including No. 19. The consignor found “Tension on the High Seas” at an estate sale in Sarasota, Fla. The long lost panel sold for $413,000, four times the anticipated price. CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Lot 33: BEAUFORD DELANEY (1901-1979), Untitled (Village Street Scene), 1948 (oil on canvas, 29 x 40 inches). | Estimate $150,000-$250,000. Sold for $557,000 including fees ($460,000 hammer). ARTIST RECORD

 

* All prices include fees, unless otherwise noted

** The Nov. 3, 2005, sale total was $4,195,758 including fees ($3,644,300 hammer total) and the sell through rate was 81 percent. The Buyer’s Premium (fees) at the time was 15 percent of the hammer price for all sales. The sales total for the April 5, 2018 African-American Fine Art Sale was $4,509,540 including fees ($3,672,050 hammer total) with an 84 percent sell through rate. The current Buyer’s Premium is based on a sliding scale: 25 percent up to and including $100,000; 20 percent of the portion of the hammer price above $100,000 up to and including $1,000,000; and 12 percent of the portion of the hammer price above $1,000,000.

 

READ MORE About how artists might benefit from maintaining a stake in their work, based on a new study

 


Lot 55: JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000), “19. Tension on the High Seas,” 1956 (Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 inches). | Estimate $75,000-$100,000. | Sold for $413,000 including fees ($340,000 hammer)

 


Lot 50: CHARLES WHITE (1918-1979), “O Freedom,” 1956 (charcoal, with crayon, erasing, stumping and wash, on ivory illustration board, 36.5 x 62 inches). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $509,000 including fees ($420,000 hammer). ARTIST RECORD

 


Lot 77: HALE WOODRUFF (1900-1980), “Primordial Landscape,” 1967 (oil on linen canvas, 40 x 50 inches). | Estimate $80,000-$120,000. Sold for $245,000 including fees ($200,000 hammer). ARTIST RECORD

 


Lot 28: ELIZABETH CATLETT (1915-2012), “Head of a Woman (Woman),” 1942-44 (oil on linen canvas, 12 x 10 inches). | Estimate $80,000-$120,000. | Sold for $209,000 including fees ($170,000 hammer)

 


Lot 93: SAM GILLIAM (b. 1933), “Untitled,” 1972 (acrylic on cotton canvas, 20.75 x 45 inches, with beveled edges). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $233,000 including fees ($190,000 hammer)

 


Lot 24: WILLIAM H. JOHNSON (1901-1970), “Jitterbugs II,” circa 1941 (color screenprint and pochoir on paper board, 17 x 14 inches). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $112,000 including fees ($90,000 hammer). ARTIST RECORD

 


Lot 133: ED CLARK (b. 1926), “Untitled,” 1990 (acrylic on linen canvas, 51 x 62 inches). 1990. | Estimate $60,000-$90,000. Sold for $93,750 including fees ($75,000 hammer). ARTIST RECORD

 

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