Hale Woodruff, Mid-Century Abstraction Lead African American Art And The Harlem Renaissance At The Swann

September 20, 2021

The fall sale of African American Art is at Swann Galleries Thursday, October 7, 2021, with market—and house—favorites returning to the auction. The sale will feature works by both modern and contemporary artists, ranging from abstract to figurative and sculptural works.

Mid-century abstraction forms the focus of the sale with works by artists who are essential to the canon. Hale Woodruff’s majestic oil-on-canvas Carnival, circa 1958—the largest of Woodruff’s abstractions to come to auction, which has not been shown publicly in over 70 years—is on offer ($250,000-350,000).

Two significant abstract oil paintings by Norman Lewis demonstrate his early work in Abstract Expressionism in New York with the first, a scarce 1947 oil-on-board abstraction based on the ironwork of New York doors and gates ($60,000-90,000); the second an example of Lewis’s abstract idiom of the early 1950s, Past Time, a circa 1950 oil-on-canvas in which he painted thinly on linen canvas to create subtle, atmospheric effects to represent natural phenomena ($150,000-250,000); as well as a selection of works on paper by the artist spanning three decades.

Additional abstraction of note includes a run of works by Sam Gilliam including Red Rouge, a 1989 acrylic on canvas and printed aluminum construction ($50,000-70,000); Charles Alston with Moon Haze (Standing in the Moonlight), oil-on-canvas, 1960 ($80,000-120,000); and an offering of works by Romare Bearden with Ritual Bayou, 1971, a scarce complete set of six editioned collages from Bearden’s brief experimentation with editioned collages, being a standout among the works ($30,000-50,000).

Figurative works are led by Hughie Lee-Smith with Curtain Call, oil on canvas, 1989 ($40,000-60,000), and a scarce example of Lee-Smith’s early works made in Detroit Untitled (Portrait of a Young Girl), oil on masonite, 1949 ($20,000-30,000).

Ernie Barnes, known for his striking works depicting athletes, is present with two compelling images of football players in midst of play: Loose Ball, oil on canvas, 1971 ($15,000-25,000), and an untitled 1971 oil-on-canvas work ($20,000-30,000).

Paul F. Keene, Jr. is on offer with The Guitarist (Jazz Icon Series), acrylic on paper, 1985 ($20,000-30,000), alongside Claude Clark’s The Plow, oil on burlap canvas, 1944 ($20,000-30,000), and Bob Thompson’s Tree God, oil on wood, 1960 ($30,000-40,000).

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Contemporary examples include works by Emma Amos, notably Polka Dots, a circa 1985 color monotype with color pastels and stencil on paper ($8,000-12,000), and Robert Neal’s Street People, a 1986 oil-on-canvas of a winter scene ($20,000-30,000).

Assemblage highlights include sought-after artist such as Howardena Pindell with Untitled #57, a beautiful example of Pindell’s work with punched paper from 1974 ($30,000-40,000); Noah Purifoy with The Flag, a 2001 cloth assemblage made of deconstructed strips of the American flag, noted to have been made in response to the events on September 11 ($15,000-25,000); and Timothy Washington with Triptych, a 1968 engraving on aluminum and mounted on wood panels ($50,000-75,000).

Sculpture includes works spanning from the Harlem Renaissance to mid-century works and the contemporary era, including sculptures by Richmond Barthé, Elizabeth Catlett and Simone Leigh.

Barthé is on offer with his iconic male figure Feral Benga, modeled in 1935, cast circa 1960 ($75,000-100,000), and the very scarce female figure, Black Majesty, 1969 ($35,000-50,000).

From Catlett, Head, circa 1943, one of only two stone carved limestone sculptures known to be made by the artist ($150,000-250,000), and the stunning Nude Torso, 1994, in a rich black marble ($750,000-100,000). Contemporary sculpture highlights are two salt-fired glazed stoneware works by Simone Leigh, a dark gray vessel, circa 2004 ($75,000-100,000), and a cowrie shell, circa 2011-12 ($30,000-40,000).

A selection of twenty-three modern and contemporary artworks consigned to support the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia and its legacy endowment campaign will be included in the sale. Highlights feature prints by Emma Amos, Belkis Ayón, Samella Lewis, Richard Mayhew and Stanley Whitney, and paintings by Floyd Newsum and Paul Keene.

Limited open exhibition hours will be available from October 4 through October 6. Appointments are strongly encouraged and can be scheduled directly with a specialist. Swann Galleries staff will prepare condition reports and provide additional photographs of material on request.

Auction date: Thursday, October 4, at 12:00 pm

Advance order bids can be placed with a specialist for the sale or on Swann’s website, and phone bidding will be available. Live online bidding platforms will be the Swann Galleries App, Invaluable, and Live Auctioneers. The complete catalog and bidding information is available at www.swanngalleries.com and on the Swann Galleries App.

Swann Auction Galleries is a third-generation family business as well as the world’s largest auction house for works on paper. In the last 75 years, Swann has repeatedly revolutionized the trade with such innovations as the first U.S. auction dedicated to photographs and the world’s only department of African-American Fine Art. More than 30 auctions and previews are held annually in Swann Galleries’ two-floor exhibition space in Midtown Manhattan, and online worldwide. Visit swanngalleries.com for more information.

Photo credit: 1) Woodruff. 2) Howardena Pindell. 3) Catlett.

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