UPDATE (10/29/21): This auction has been postponed. Culture Type received the following statement from Heritage Auctions: “Concerns involving the provenance of a handful of lots in ‘The Soul of a Nation: Black Art from a Distinguished Collector’ were recently presented to Heritage Auctions. Out of an abundance of caution, the sale scheduled for Nov. 5 has been postponed.” A spokesperson for the auction house said he was unable to provide details about specific lots at issue or if and when the auction would be rescheduled.


HERITAGE AUCTIONS in Dallas, Texas, is selling a trove of African American art from a private collection next month. The selections include artworks by Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Mavis Pusey, Emma Amos, and Sam Gilliam.

The top lots are “Head of a Youth” (circa 1930s), a terra cotta sculpture by Sargent Claude Johnson and “Wanderers” (circa 1930), a figurative painting by James Lesesne Wells. Both works are estimated at $30,000-$50,000. The auction is Nov. 5 and takes place during the second session of the American Art Signature Auction.


Lot 67214: SARGENT CLAUDE JOHNSON (American, 1888-1967), “Head of a Youth,” circa 1930s (terra cotta, 7 inches / 17.8 cm) high on 3 1/2 inch / 8.9 cm high wood base). | Estimate $30,000-$50,000


Consigned by a Canada-based collector who prefers to remain anonymous, 95 lots by more than 60 modern and contemporary African American artists are being offered. A range of mediums is represented, from paintings and sculpture to mixed media and works on paper. The majority of the works are limited-edition prints. The material spans nearly a century, dating from the end of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s to the near present with “Racquel Come to Me Two,” a digital pigment print produced by Mickalene Thomas in 2018.

Additional auction highlights include “Head of a Woman” (circa 1938), a second sculpture by Johnson; “Surrealist Figures with Tribal Mask,” an undated painting Charles Alston; watercolors by Bob Thompson, Norman Lewis, and Eldzier Cortor; and an abstract steel sculpture by Harold Cousins.

Three ink, wash, and collage portraits of historic women were made in 1942 by Lois Mailou Jones for an illustrated calendar of 12 American women. Prints by historic figures such as Benny Andrews, Vivian E. Browne, Margaret Burroughs, Hughie-Lee Smith, and John Wilson, are offered. A number of artists active today are also featured, including Thomas, Gilliam, McArthur Binion, Rashid Johnson, Richard Mayhew, Martin Puryear, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Jamel Shabazz, Lorna Simpson, and Ann Tanksley.

HERITAGE IS CALLING THE EVENT “Soul of a Nation: Black Art From a Distinguished Collector,” boldly borrowing the name of the landmark show organized by the Tate Modern in London. Featuring prized original works produced by about 60 iconic African American artists between 1963 and 1983, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” (2017-20) traveled internationally to museums in Arkansas, New York, Texas, and California.

Aviva Lehmann, vice president and director of American art at Heritage Auctions, told Culture Type the consignor spent his career in the entertainment industry. He “originally collected documents and historical manuscripts related to Black history and from there, the past 15 years or so, he got very interested in fine art, mostly of the Harlem Renaissance and even up until today,” she said. “At Heritage, we handled his collection of historical documents. It did very well (in January 2019). We’ve had a relationship with him and I was able to convince him to let us sell his collection of fine art.”

Lehmann added: “It’s just exciting to me. We are an American auction house. We do very well with American art and I just thought it was time as America’s auction house to heavily focus on Black art because it is such an integral part of our history. I’m thrilled to be handling it.”

“We are an American auction house. We do very well with American art and I just thought it was time as America’s auction house to heavily focus on Black art because it is such an integral part of our history. I’m thrilled to be handling it.” — Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auctions

Lot: 67222: JAMES LESESNE WELLS, (American, 1902-1993), “Wanderers,” circa 1930 (oil on canvas, 18-1/4 x 24-1/2 inches / 46.4 x 62.2 cm). | Estimate $30,000-$50,000


A catalog accompanies the single-owner sale with Johnson’s “Head of a Youth” gracing the cover. The catalog features an essay by Halima Taha, an arts and cultural strategist and author of the book, “Collecting African American Art: Works on Paper and Canvas.” She writes about collecting Black visual culture and chronicles the rising interest in African American art on the secondary market. The catalog also includes an introduction by the collector, who signs his contribution with the initials: “J.S.”

About a decade ago, after observing the sales market for African American art for a few years, “it became apparent to me that this was a collecting area I could participate in. And somewhat best of all, it was still affordable, which it is growing more and more difficult to say. The work was visually exciting, varied, powerful, and even revelatory,” he wrote.

In his view, passion and love are the key motivators that drive collectors. “Each diligently and methodically acquired addition to a collection is like fitting a piece to a never-to-be-totally-completed jigsaw puzzle. As the puzzle grows new vistas are opened, knowledge expands, appreciation for the objects, their makers, the social context in which they were made, deepens,” the collector wrote.

“This has certainly been the case for my collection of Black Art that is being offered up for auction here today. Had the world of Black Art not opened to me I would never have had the privilege, or the pleasure, of having made the acquaintance of such utterly wonderful and accomplished artists as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Emma Amos, Sargent Johnson, Mickalene Thomas, and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.” CT


* Condition reports included with each lot disclose aging, wear, and damage issues


FIND MORE The first session of the Nov. 5 American Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions includes three works by African American artists: “Head of a Boy” (n.d.) by Richmond Barthé; an undated pool hall painting by Ernie Barnes from the collection of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme; and “Harlequin” (circa 1956), a Romare Bearden collage with various papers with paint, ink, and pencil on paper estimated at $250,000-350,000. The Bearden collage has labels on the back from ACA Galleries, Jerald Melberg Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art, and National Gallery of Art. The museum labels cite photographer Frank Stewart as the lender for the traveling exhibition “The Art of Romare Bearden.” The provenance for the lot lists Stewart and the arts and cultural strategist Halima Taha, who decades ago co-owned Onyx Gallery in New York City and authored the essay for the single-owner art sale covered above


FIND MORE In January 2019, Heritage Auctions presented “Say it Loud” The John Silverstein Collection of African American Social History, a sale featuring historic documents, memorabilia, and photographs


Lot 67217: LOIS MAILOU JONES (American, 1905-1998), “Village Street,” circa 1950 (watercolor on paper, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches / 29.2 x 21.6 cm). | Estimate $3,000-$5,000


Lot 67231: ELIZABETH CATLETT (American, 1915-2012), “Survivor,” 1983 (linocut on paper, 9 3/8 x 7 1/2 inches / 23.8 x 19.1 cm), Ed. 142/1000. | Estimate $3,000-$5,000


Lot 67236: CHARLES WILBERT WHITE (American, 1918-1979), “Head of a Man in Profile,” posthumous impression, circa 1984 (etching on wove paper, 8 7/8 x 12 inches / 22.5 x 30.5 cm), Annotated in pencil lower left; artist estate stamp lower right, Printed and Published by Hand Graphics, Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico posthumously with the ink stamp on the verso. | Estimate $2,000-$3,000


Lot 67286: RALPH ARNOLD (American, b. 1924), “Cascade,” 1986-88 (crayon, acrylic and pencil on paper, 22 5/8 x 22 1/4 inches / 57.5 x 56.5 cm, sheet). | Estimate $1,000-$1,500


Lot 67291: EMMA AMOS (American, b. 1938), “On Top of the World,” 1996 (etching in colors with fabric collage on paper, 29 7/8 x 22 1/8 inches / 75.9 x 56.2 cm, sheet), Ed. 16/60. | Estimate $2,000-$3,000


Lot 67298: BETYE SAAR (American, b. 1926), “Keep for Old Memories, 1976 (offset lithograph on paper, 13 3/4 x 18 1/8 inches / 34.9 x 46.0 cm, sheet), Ed. 57/250. Printed by Cirrus Editions, Ltd., Los Angeles. | Estimate $1,200-$1,800


Lot 67242: JACOB LAWRENCE (American, 1917-2000), “Revolt on the Amistad,” 1989 (serigraph in colors on wove paper, 35 x 25 3/4 inches / 88.9 x 65.4 cm, image), Ed. 88/120. Published by Spradling-Ames, Key WestPrinted by Lou Stovall. | Estimate $6,000-$8,000


Lot 67296: MICKALENE THOMAS (American, b. 1971), “Racquel Come to Me Two,” 2018 (digital pigment print, 15 1/8 x 11 5/8 inches / 38.4 x 29.5 cm, image; 16 1/2 x 13 inches, sheet), Signed, dated, and editioned 9/50 in pencil. | Estimate $4,000-$6,000


Lot 67219: SARGENT CLAUDE JOHNSON (1888-1967), “Head of a Woman,” circa 1938 (glazed terracotta, 5-1/2 inches / 14 cm high on 3/4 inch / 1.9 cm painted wood base). | Estimate $15,000-$25,000


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