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Robust Bidding for Top Works Lifts Swann African-American Sale

The Oct. 6 Swann Galleries sale of African-American fine art produced strong prices for major artists.

NEW YORK—The Oct. 6 Swann Galleries sale of African-American fine art produced strong prices for major artists. The highest lot was Charles White’s charcoal on illustration board, Work, 1953, which brought $306,000, topping the $200,000/250,000 estimate. Also exceeding predictions was an untitled landscape, ca. late 1850s, by Robert S. Duncanson, which sold for $120,000, compared with an estimate of $60,000/90,000, and two, untitled gouache paintings of card players and cards by Jacob Lawrence, ca.1941-42, which sold for $108,000, compared with an estimate of $50,000/75,000.

Other notable sales included: Hughie Lee-Smith’s oil on masonite, Desert Forms, 1957, which sold for $102,000, compared with an estimate of $50,000/75,000; Edward M. Bannister’s Untitled (Rhode Island Landscape), 1893, which sold for $31,200, compared with an estimate of $8,000/12,000; Loïs Mailou Jones’s oil, Marché de Kenscoff, Haiti, 1962, which sold for $32,400, compared with an estimate of $12,000/18,000; and Henry W. Bannarn’s painted plaster sculpture, Cleota, 1932, which sold for $24,000, compared with an estimate of $6,000/9,000.

Overall, 119, or 75 percent, of the 158 lots found buyers, which might have led to a less robust sale but for the fact that all but one of the higher-estimated lots—Charles Alston’s 1974 untitled figure composition, estimated at $60,000/90,000—found buyers, and most of the other buy-ins were in the middle- to lower-priced category. The sale earned $1.8 million, falling within the presale estimate of $1.6 million/2.3 million. The overall total was an improvement on the $820,973 realized last October.

Among the other top sellers, all of which brought $108,000 each, were: Barkley L. Hendricks’s oil diptych, Twins, 1977, on an estimate of $100,000/150,000; Norman Lewis’s oil, Promenade, 1961, which was estimated at $120,000/180,000; and Hale Woodruff’s Rape of Europa, ca. 1958, which was estimated at $90,000/120,000.

Also, Romare Bearden’s collage, Untitled (Scales of Justice), ca.1976, sold for $55,200, compared with an estimate of $40,000/60,000, while John Biggers’s oil, At the Railroad, 1988, sold for $33,600, on an estimate of $20,000/30,000, and Lee-Smith’s painting, Edge of Hope, 1970-5, sold for $28,800, on an estimate of $15,000/25,000.

“Everything we estimated in the six figures sold,” Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American art department, told ARTnewsletter. He attributed that success to having “particularly good pieces to sell this time around” and buyers who “are looking for works of exceptional quality and are willing to pay for them.” The result for the top-selling Charles White drawing was the second-highest auction price for the artist—the highest was set in 2007 at Swann Galleries for the artist’s drawing, General Moses (Harriet Tubman), which sold for $360,000.

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