At Swann African American Art Auction, Select Lots Yield Top Prices

Jacob Lawrence’s “Eight Passages” 1990 (eight color screenprints on St. Armand paper) was estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, but failed to sell. The prints depict the King James version of the Book of Genesis.

NEW YORK—Swann Auction Galleries held its 11th auction of African American fine art today. While overall sales were slow, with about 25 percent of the lots being passed due to no bids or low bids, choice work from important artists including Charles White, Hale Woodruff and Jacob Lawrence garnered top prices.

Almost all of the seats in the room were filled, but the online and phone bidders were more active than those who participated in-person. Throughout the nearly 160 lot auction there were fleeting moments of bidding so vigorous that applause followed the announcement of the winning sale price.

The first lot, an untitled oil on canvas landscape by William S. Duncanson from the late 1850s, was estimated to sell for $60,000 to $90,000 and sold for $120,000 (unless otherwise noted, all stated prices include the buyer’s premium—which is 20 percent of the final bid on each sale).

Lot 30: Two untitled Jacob Lawrence gouache on composition board paintings of a card dealer and two card players, panels from a folding screen (circa 1941-42), also sold above their estimate, going for $108,000.

Lot 58: There was a selection of Lois Mailou Jones work up for auction. “Marché de Kenscoff, Haiti” 1962 was estimated to sell for $12,000 to $18,000. Initially it looked like the high bid was $20,000, but just before the auctioneer closed the bidding, interest ramped up again and it eventually sold for $27,000 ($32,400 including the premium).

Lot 61: The sale’s highest bid went to “Work” 1953 by Charles White. The Wolff crayon and charcoal on illustration board is a Realist drawing of a working man carrying a stack of two-by-fours on one shoulder and sold just above its estimate. The hammer price was $255,000 ($306,000 including the premium).

Lot 72: Hale Woodruff’s “Rape of Europa” 1958 graced the cover of the auction catalogue (above). The large abstract oil on canvas yielded $108,000, which was on the low-end of its estimate.

Lot 116: “Twins” 1977, a life-sized Barkley L. Hendricks oil and acrylic on canvas diptych of a woman named Shari evoking 70s-era cool in a menswear-style suit—one canvas shows her in a white suit, the other in a black suit—also sold at the low-end of its estimate at $108,000.

The auction featured work from many other artists, including Sam Gilliam, Thornton Dial, James VanDerZee, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Hughie Lee-Smith, John Biggers, Carrie Mae Weems and Richard Mayhew.

And the final lots were work from younger, more contemporary artists, Kara Walker, Franks Francois Décéus and Abdi Farah, who won the reality television show “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” on Bravo last year, among them.

Photos by Arts Observer

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