NEW YORK—A four-foot-tall, untitled bronze sculpture of a standing African-American woman, 1967, by Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915), was the highest-selling lot at Swann Galleries’ Feb. 17 sale of African-American fine art, selling for $108,000 with premium, but missing the $120,000/180,000 estimate. One of the largest bronzes made by the artist, it was consigned from a private collection in Santa Barbara, California. Prior to that, the work had been owned by private collectors in Cuernavaca, Mexico for more than 40 years. It was bought by a private collector.
The overall sale yielded solid results, earning $1.3 million, compared with a presale estimate of $1.1 million/1.8 million and with 116, or 78 percent, of the 148 lots finding buyers, and marking an improvement on many of last year’s auctions at Swann’s in which total sale revenues were below or barely reaching presale estimates.
An early October sale of African-American art realized $1.2 million, falling below the $1.4 million/2 million presale estimate, with a 34 percent sell-through rate.
Other top prices in the recent auction included $96,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000) for Beauford Delaney’s oil on canvas Le Balayeur, 1968, and for Romare Bearden’s, collage Tidings, ca. 1973, against an estimate of $30,000/50,000. Also, by Bearden, a collage entitled The Stubborn Old Lady, sold for $72,000, compared with an estimate of $60,000/90,000.
Robert Scott Duncanson’s untitled landscape painting, ca. 1860-65, sold for $45,600 (estimate: $15,000/25,000) and Bearden’s set of six editioned collages, Ritual Bayou, 1971, sold for $43,200 (estimate $20,000/30,000).
Norman Lewis’s abstract oil, Crossing, 1948, sold for $43,200, falling within the estimate of $30,000/50,000 and a double-sided, 1943 watercolor work by Lewis depicting two very different scenes—one an untitled rural landscape and the other an image of a policeman beating an African-American male—sold for $33,600, against an estimate of $30,000/40,000. Charles Ethan Porter’s oil-on-wood panel Sunflowers, ca. early 1880s, sold for $36,000, clearing the $15,000/25,000 estimate.
Sam Gilliam’s abstract acrylic on canvas April 4, 1972, sold for $31,200, against an estimate of $15,000/25,000, and an oil by Hughie Lee-Smith, entitled Two Boys, 1968, brought $28,000, on an estimate of $20,000/30,000.
“There was an influx of new buyers, as well as many of our older buyers,” said Nigel Freeman, director of the African-American Fine Art department at Swann. “We didn’t set any records, but we got some of the highest prices for some artists in years.”
Among the works that failed to sell were Lewis’s oil, Under Sea, 1953, which was estimated at $30,000/50,000, and Walter Augustus Simon’s oil, The Iron Eagle, ca. 1960, which was estimated at $15,000/25,000.