AUCTION PRICES for paintings by Henry Taylor have reached a new realm. This evening, “I’ll Put a Spell on You” (2004) set a new benchmark at Sotheby’s New York. Bids flew past the estimate and the artist’s existing record.

Amid the flurry, auctioneer Oliver Barker said “A lot of Henry Taylor collectors here.” After more than 20 bids that came at a fast clip, the hammer came down at $800,000. Including fees, the painting sold for $975,000.

Lot 3: HENRY TAYLOR, “I’ll Put a Spell on You,” 2004 (acrylic and newsprint on canvas, 54 x 77 inches / 137.2 by 195.6 cm.). | Estimate $150,000-$200,000. | Sold for $975,000 (including fees). RECORD


The new auction record crushed the Los Angeles-based artist’s previous auction high. Interest quickly surpassed expectations, with bidding soaring to four times the high estimate ($150,000-$200,000). The artist’s previous record was established on June 26, when “C&H” (2006) sold for $363,845 (including fees) at Sotheby’s London. The new record represents a nearly threefold increase.

Three African American artists established new records at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction on Nov. 14. In addition to Taylor’s “I’ll Put a Spell on You,” works by Jacob Lawrence and Jack Whitten also reached new auction highs.

TAYLOR’S LOOSELY RENDERED FIGURATION documents ordinary scenes through an imaginary lens. He depicts his friends and family and draws attention to significant historic figures or cultural moments. He often paints himself into his work and inserts symbolic elements, as well as incongruent ones.

Henry Taylor’s loosely rendered figuration documents ordinary scenes through an imaginary lens. He often paints himself into his work and inserts symbolic elements, as well as incongruent ones.

“I’ll Put a Spell on You” centers around a man whose leering gaze is focused on a woman sitting beside him. Her interest is elsewhere. She looks beyond the canvas at the viewer. The pair is in the foreground. Five other figures surround them and at least three other scenes unfold across the canvas. The Holy Bible rests on a coffee table and cattle are featured against a rural landscape in the background.

The title of the painting hews close to the title for a 1956 song written and composed by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins— “I Put a Spell on You,” Covered by many artists over the decades, the song is the title track on Nina Simone’s 1965 album. Simone, whose musical portfolio spans blues, jazz, pop and folk, also used the title for her autobiography, first published in 1992.

“C&H,” a candid group portrait, and “I’ll Put a Spell on You” were both featured in Taylor’s MoMA PS1 exhibition in 2012. In its review of the exhibition, the New York Times described his paintings as “the visual equivalents of the blues.”

The two record-breaking paintings are among the most engaging and dynamic by Taylor to come to auction. Offerings are often individual portraits, such as Taylor’s “Untitled” (2016), the forthcoming lot at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction tomorrow. CT


FIND MORE about how artists might benefit from secondary market sales and the ongoing challenge to establish artist royalty rights

READ MORE about Henry Taylor in this early profile published in advance of his MoMA PS1 exhibition


Published in October, “Henry Taylor” is the first major monograph to survey the Los Angeles artist’s practice. The hefty volume features essays by Zadie Smith and Sarah Lewis, a profile by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, and a conversation with Taylor conducted by fellow Los Angeles artist Charles Gaines. An earlier publication also titled “Henry Taylor,” documents his MoMA PS1 exhibition.


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