Robert Colescott’s 1975 painting, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware River: Page from an American History Textbook, a riff on Emanuel Leutze’s widely-known 1852 painting of the first President of the United States crossing the Delaware river by boat, will be sold at auction next month. The painting will be offered with a guarantee during Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale on May 12, where it is expected to achieve a price of $9 million–$12 million— far above the artist’s auction record of $912,500, which was set in November 2018.
In Colescott’s painting, he has replaced the white figures in Leutze’s scene, which has been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection for more than a century, with Black figures representing racist tropes that have been used throughout American history. Colescott, who in 1997 became the first Black artist to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale, is recognized for his oeuvre’s satirical edge. He died in 2009.
The work is now being sold from the holdings of private Midwest collectors, who purchased it from John Beggruen Gallery in San Francisco in 1976. The painting was exhibited in 2009 at the Jepson Center in Savannah, Georgia. There, it was listed as being loaned by St. Louis–based philanthropists Robert and Lois Orchard, who amassed a collection of modern and contemporary art over several decades, the bulk of which was sold at Hindman Auctioneers in September 2016. The work was also included in the 2018 exhibition “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas” at the Seattle Art Museum.
If the painting reaches its high estimate, it will rank among the few works by contemporary Black artists that have achieved an auction price above $10 million. Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kerry James Marshall, and Mark Bradford are among the select few that have crossed that threshold. Second and third to Basquiat’s record of $110.5 million are Marshall’s Past Times (1997), sold for $21.1 million in May 2018, and Bradford’s Helter Skelter I (2007), which sold for $12 million in March 2018 at Phillips London.
George Washington Carver is currently on view in Hong Kong until April 21. It will travel later to this month to Los Angeles, where it will be on view for three days before going to its final destination in New York in May.