New York—Swann Galleries is set to offer a sale of African-American Fine Art on Thursday, June 4 with works spanning from the nineteenth century through the modern era. The sale was postponed due to Covid-19 and will be held live online by the house.
As the earliest work in the sale Edward M. Bannister’s serene circa 1890-91 Rhode Island landscape Morning on the River, Providence, R.I., oil on canvas, will kick off the sale with an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. Additional early works include a run of photographs by James Vanderzee. Most notably, a portfolio of eighteen mounted silver prints and sepia-toned photographs dating from 1905-1938 is expected to bring $40,000 to $60,000.
Jacob Lawrence’s scarce Cutting Logs, #51, gouache, tempera and watercolor on paper, 1942 leads the auction by estimate. Lawrence intended to paint a series depicting the rural life of African Americans over a six-month period in Virginia. He and his wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight, had a change of heart, returning early. Lawrence never completed the series, though works from it made it to institutional collections—from this same series is Firewood #55, in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Cutting Logs, #51 is offered here at $250,000 to $350,000.
A strong showing of sculpture includes an elegant 1975, 25-inch mahogany work by Elizabeth Catlett, directly acquired from the artist by its owner. The work is expected to bring $100,000 to $150,000. A 2001 salt-fired stoneware vessel by Simone Leigh, which represents the artist’s exploration of the imagery of the black female body, the romanticization of primitivism and fertility is present at $60,000 to $90,000. Sargent Johnson’s circa 1928 painted terra cotta portrait of a young boy is on offer at $60,000 to $90,000. The sculpture is similar to the artist’s Sammy, which was illustrated on the cover of the 1928 Harmon Foundation exhibition brochure. Also of note is Richmond Barthé’s Feral Benga, modeled in 1935 and cast in 1986. The cast bronze sculpture represents the culmination of Richmond Barthé's study of the figure in sculpture, anatomy and dance in the 1930s, and his pioneering realization of an ideal male nude. It is estimated here at $40,000 to $60,000.
The sale will feautre what is likely the earliest work by David Hammons to come to auction: a 1965 untitled mixed-paper collage on masonite board, which carries an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. The work, a simple but powerful image of two raised, clenched fists with shackles blending into the background, comes from the collection of the artist’s 1964 Los Angeles City College roommate. John Biggers’s significant oil on board painting Women, Ghana, circa 1960, created shortly after the artist’s travels in Ghana in the late 1950s, shows the roles of African women in their society ($120,000-180,000). Biggers was one of the first African-American artists to visit Africa, sponsored by a UNESCO fellowship in 1957. Walter Williams is on offer with a wonderful example from his Southern Landscape series: Untitled (Boy in Field), circa 1956 ($35,000-50,000). The sale will also include fine postwar paintings by Norman Lewis, Hughie Lee-Smith and Vincent D. Smith.
A run of acrylic on canvas works by Ernie Barnes stands out amongst the works on offer. Leading the run is In the Beginning, circa 1970, at $30,000 to $40,000. The work comes framed with the distressed wood from a weathered picket fence, which the artist chose as a tribute to his late father—inspired by the fenced backyard of his childhood home. Also of note is Marble Shooter, 1969 ($25,000-35,000); New Shoes, circa 1970 ($20,000-30,000); and Race Horses, circa 1970 ($10,000-15,000).
Abstract works include a brightly colored mid-career collage Aphrodite, 1973, by Romare Bearden. The work comes from Bearden’s 1972-73 series The Prevalence of Ritual and is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. Late-career works by Sam Gilliam include the 1998 acrylic and polypropylene Horses Upside Down, at $80,000 to $120,000, and the 2007 acrylic on birch plywood Lions Rock, Repeat, at $40,000 to $60,000. Emma Amos is featured with A Well Balanced Meal, acrylic and fabric collage on canvas with Kente cloth border, 1990, at $30,000 to $40,000.
The sale comes full circle with noteworthy works by contemporary artists. Allison Janae Hamilton is present with When the Wind Has Teeth, archival pigment print, in the artist’s frame, 2015 ($5,000-7,000); Keeping the Culture, a 2011 color linoleum cut by Kerry James Marshall ($8,000-12,000); and a 2016 etching portrait of a young man by Toyin Ojih Odutola ($2,000-3,000).
While current restrictions will not allow for in-person examination of the material, Swann Galleries staff will prepare condition reports and provide additional photographs of material on request. Advance order bids can be placed directly with the specialist for the sale or on Swann’s website, and limited, pre-arranged phone bidding will be available. Live online bidding platforms available will be the Swann Galleries App, Invaluable, and Live Auctioneers. The complete catalogue and bidding information is available at www.swanngalleries.com and on the Swann Galleries App.