Christie's inaugural sale of self-taught artists on Friday was led by William Edmondson’s Boxer, which brought $785,000, well above its $150,000-250,000 estimate. The price set a record in the category, according to Christie's, surpassing the previous top price set by Henry Darger’s Sans titre, which sold for $745,076 in 2014.
The sale, titled “Liberation Through Expression: Outsider and Vernacular Art,” brought a total $1.5 million overall for 44 works categorzied as by "self-taught" artists (not formally-trained).
Edmondson (1874-1951), the son of former slaves, came to sculpture at age 57, after working as a janitor and stonemason in Nashville, Tenn. He first carved tombstones, later turning toward freestanding sculptures that were displayed around his yard. Edmondson's powerful figures caught the attention of Alfred H. Barr, Jr., then-director of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1937, Edmondson became the first African American to have a solo exhibition at MoMA.
Likely modeled after Joe Louis, Boxer "is a reflection of American popular culture of the era and shows Edmondson’s pride in his cultural identity," states Christie's catalog.