$2.8M African-American Fine Art Sale Sees Four Works Exceed $100K

  • NEW YORK, New York
  • /
  • October 18, 2017

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4: Henry Ossawa Tanner, Flight into Egypt, oil on canvas, circa 1910. Sold October 5, 2017 for $341,000.

Four works exceeded $100,000 at Swann Auction Galleries’ sale of African-American Fine Art on Thursday, October 5. A wealth of unique paintings, drawings and monotypes distinguished the sale of approximately 150 lots, nearly all of which were executed in the last century.

An important nocturne by Henry Ossawa Tanner titled Flight into Egypt, circa 1910, was the highlight of the sale. The subject was a favorite motif of the artist’s, who took several trips to the Holy Land and was deeply inspired by the experience. The large oil painting was purchased by an institution for $341,000.

Works by Norman Lewis performed well, selling through the entire run of eight. These were led by an unusual 4.5-foot length of marbleized slate, adorned with small, stylized figures: Untitled (Procession Composition), 1960, sold to a collector for $233,000, above a high estimate of $150,000. Additional highlights by the Abstract Expressionist included a 1960 untitled oil painting on paper, and Sunset, 1951, another oil painting on paper ($21,250 and $15,000, respectively). Of the eight works by Lewis in the sale, only one was a print: the lithograph Untitled (Umbrella), 1945, nearly quadrupled its high estimate to sell for $18,750.


All but one of the seven offered works by Sam Gilliam, each representing dramatically different stylistic periods in the artist’s oeuvre, found new homes. A beveled-edge canvas from 1973 titled Rubiyat more than doubled its high estimate to sell for $191,000. Not Spinning, 2001-04, a plywood collage with acrylic paint, was one of the most contemporary works in the sale: it reached $57,500.

War Worker, 1943, is the second painting by Elizabeth Catlett ever to come to auction. The tempera on paper portrait exemplifies the artist’s work from her New York period. It reached 149,000, above an estimate of $90,000, a record for a painting by the artist. All but one of the eight works by Catlett offered in the auction sold. Two bronze busts, Glory, 1981, and Cabeza Cantando (Singing Head), 1960, found buyers for $40,000 and $27,500, respectively.

48: Norman Lewis, Untitled (Processional Composition), oil on marbleized slate, 1960. Sold October 5, 2017 for $233,000.

A new auction record was established for Richmond Barthè, whose 1959 cast bronze sculpture The Awakening of Africa (Africa Awakening) reached $87,500. Stevedore, a cast bronze on marble base modeled by the artist in 1937 and cast in 1985, was sold for $75,000.

All three dramatic oil paintings by Hughie Lee-Smith sold for more than $50,000 each. Untitled (Youths on a Lakeshore, 1952, dates to the artist’s time in Detroit, and was purchased by a collector for $93,750. A later cityscape, Interlude, 1991, reached $55,000.

Nigel Freeman, director of African-American Fine Art at Swann, said of the sale, “We were thrilled with the results of the fall sale–a higher sale total with fewer lots than last year. Our audience responded to the offerings of scarce and important modern and contemporary artworks with significant bidding past high estimates. Notable results included new artist records for Richmond Barthé, Ernie Barnes and Larry Potter. Institutions were active in the sale, acquiring nearly a dozen works, including Tanner’s Flight into Egypt, as well as works by Elizabeth Catlett, Edward Bannister, Emma Amos, Columbus Knox and Carrie Mae Weems.”

The next auction of African-American Fine Art at Swann Galleries will be held in Spring 2018.

Alexandra Nelson
Swann Auction Galleries
2122544710 x19

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