Kerry James Marshall’s 1991 painting Nat-Shango (Thunder), a portrait of an enslaved man, Nat Turner, who led an 1831 rebellion in Virginia, will be sold at auction next month. The painting will be sold during Christie’s contemporary art evening sale on May 11, where it is expected to achieve a price of $6.5 million–$8.5 million.
In Marshall’s painting, Turner is shown brandishing axes in both hands. In the background, he is surrounded by images of young white women from the 1950s. The artist based these images on the covers of mid-century Harlequin romance novels.
The Chicago-based artist is known for his large-scale paintings focused on the Black American experience. Often, these works include allusions to well-known artworks and historical happenings.
“[Marshall] has not only played his own important role in re-contextualizing the debate surrounding race, but has also enabled a new, younger, and perhaps more vociferous, generation to make their own voices heard in shaping the current inflection point in American history,” Christie’s 21st century art specialist Paula Saracino Fendi, said in a statement.
Nat-Shango (Thunder) is being sold from the holdings of Seattle art dealer Greg Kucera and his partner Larry Yocom, who purchased it from Koplin Gallery in Santa Monica in 1994. Most recently, the collectors lent it to the 2016–18 exhibition “Close-Ups” at the Seattle Art Museum.
If the painting reaches its high estimate, it will rank not only among the most expensive works by Marshall ever sold at auction, but also as one of the top prices achieved for a work by a living Black artist. Past Times (1997), which was bought by the rapper Sean P. Diddy Combs for $21.1 million in May 2018, holds the artist’s current record. The second-most expensive work by him is Vignette 19 (2014), which sold for $18.5 million, against an estimate of $6.5 million, to Jeff Bezos at Sotheby’s in November 2019.