NEW YORK—For those in the market for black fine art, today is a great day. Swann Galleries is holding its twelfth auction dedicated exclusively to African American fine art and is offering rare and compelling prints, photographs, drawings, paintings and sculpture. The cover of the sale catalogue features a colorful large-scale painting by William T. Williams. “Eastern Star” 1971 (acrylic on canvas), stands 5×7 feet and according to Swann is the first painting by Williams to be offered at auction.
Each of Swann’s African American art sales has included work by some of the most well-known and collected artists of the last century—Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden. The trio is represented in this installment too, along with many other critically recognized artists—Norman Lewis, Charles White, John Wilson and Beauford Delaney, among them. There is a self-portrait by Hughie Lee-Smith; sculptures by Artis Lane and Augusta Savage; “En Route,” 1954 (oil on masonite), “an excellent example of Ellis Wilson’s celebrated Haitian period”; and photographs by James VanDerZee and Gordon Parks.
Although less than 25 percent of the lots are by women artists, some significant works by women are for sale: “Roots,” a poignant color screen print by Catlett that the gallery says has not been seen at auction in 20 years (shown above); “March on Washington,” 1964 (oil on canvas), a beautifully rendered painting by Alma Thomas (1891-1978); Faith Ringgold’s 1974 “Night: Window of the Wedding 8,” touted as the first of her fabric paintings to be offered at auction (shown below); and “Still Life with Grapefruit,” 1928, described on the frame backing as Lois Mailou Jones’s first painting, completed a year after she graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
White’s “J’Accuse No. 10 (Negro Woman),” is a celebration of black women and was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine in 1966. The charcoal drawing is the first from the series to come to auction.
A handful of 19th century works will be offered. “Winter Landscape,” 1860 (oil on canvas) by Robert S. Duncanson is expected to garner a high bid ($75,000 to $100,000). Commercially successful, Duncanson took a two-year “Grand Tour” of Europe in 1853, the first such excursion for an African American artist.
In 1977, David Hammons and Bruce Talamon created four color screen prints for possible use by Max Roach (1924-2007) on his album cover. The untitled prints are all of the same image of legendary jazz drummer. Three are enhanced with bold color, the fourth is printed on corrugated cardboard. Swann acquired the works from Roach’s estate.
Detail of “Exodus of Confederates From Atlanta” from “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated),” 2005 (15 offset lithographs and screen prints on Somerset textured paper) by Kara Walker. (The lithograph pictured belongs to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, but is from the same series up for auction.)
Works by several notable contemporary artists will be auctioned. There’s a Glenn Ligon limited edition poster of a barber shop sign; 15 lithographs and screen prints from Kara Walker’s 2005 “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)” series (shown above); and three commemorative porcelain plates by Carrie Mae Weems.
The auction presents an important selection of black fine art. There are 163 lots in the sale and the final item is an intriguing untitled installation by Radcliffe Bailey (see below).
POST-SALE UPDATE: See sales results here.
All photos © Arts Observer
Clockwise from left, “Sound of Silence II,” 1978 (color lithograph) by Charles White; “Roots,” 1981 (color screen print) by Elizabeth Catlett; “Love Letter II,” 1977 (color lithograph) by Charles White.