Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Swann Galleries African-American Fine Art Auction: Sale 2323

The upcoming African-American Fine Art Sale 2323 at Swann Auction Galleries is scheduled for Thursday, October 3, 2013. For Swann Galleries, this auction (POINT of DEPARTURE: POSTWAR AFRICAN-AMERICAN FINE ART) marks the fifteenth sale, over the past several years, that has an African-American art focus. "This point of departure was inspired by the growing internationalism of the art world, and the spread of Abstract Expressionism—the first uniquely American art movement. As a result, many African-American artists were no longer wary of going Modern".

Sale 2323 features a wide range of visual art from the post-war period that reflects how African American art evolved in the mid-20th century, and includes  works by Charles Alston, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis, Hale Woodruff, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Sargent Johnson, among others. Nigel Freeman, Director of the African American Fine Art Department at Swann Auction Galleries, states that "Most of the top lots sold in our February auction were works from the 1970s and onward. Not only are we seeing an increased interest at Swann in quality works from this time period, but we're seeing an overall renewed focus on the buying and selling of this material in the marketplace."  

A few highlights from Sale 2323 follow. The entire auction (Sale 2323) consists of 149 lots which may be viewed in the online catalogue.

Sargent Claude Johnson, Dancer, varnished terracotta, circa 1938-40, approximately 10"x 6"x 7" (including base).       Image: Swann Auction Galleries 

Lot 1 
Sargent Claude Johnson,  Dancer

Upon first viewing the catalogue, I immediately took a strong liking to this piece. This was my first time seeing a piece, in this style, by Sargent Claude Johnson. Dancer, a striking terracotta, is an extremely scarce modernist figure by the artist. Approaching the 1940s, this experimental work demonstrates Johnson's increased interest in European modernism and abstraction. It is a radical departure from the naturalist heads the artist produced in the 1930s. Dancer (Lot 1) has an estimate of $30,000 - 50,000.

Charles White, Hope Imprisoned, 1946, tempera on cream woven paper, 26" x 20".

Lot 10
Charles White, Hope Imprisoned

Hope Imprisoned by Charles White, tempera on cream woven paper, was completed in 1946. This striking work on paper is a significant painting by
Charles White, and is closely related in composition to Woman of Sorrows, colored inks, 1947, Howard University in Washington, DC. These and other
similar works portray an isolated and sorrowful woman. During this time period,  Charles White popularized the plight of the downtrodden depicted with graphic social realism. His anonymous subjects are imbued with an intense level of emotion. Hope Imprisoned (Lot 10) has an estimate of $100,000 - 150,000.

Norman Lewis, Untitled, oil on linen canvas, circa 1957, 49"x 63". Image: Swann Auction Galleries

Lot 22
Norman Lewis, Untitled

This untitled piece by Norman Lewis is the cover art for the catalogue and it represents the highest estimate of the 149 lots in Sale 2323. Quoting the entry in the catalogue, "This important mid-century painting is not only a truly exceptional example of Norman Lewis's painting, but an exciting discovery. This previously unrecorded painting is one of the most significant 1950s calligraphic figure paintings by Norman Lewis that we have seen, and yet it has never been publicly exhibited. The original owner, now deceased, took private art lessons from Norman Lewis in Harlem as a young woman. They remained life-long friends after she moved to Chicago. According to the family, she visited him in New York in the late 1950s with the desire to acquire an oil painting for herself. She bought this large painting out of his studio."

Lot 22 (Untitled) has an estimate of $250,000 - 350,000.

Elizabeth Catlett, Head, terracotta, painted dark brown, 1947, 11"x 6"x 8½". Image: Swann Auction Galleries

Lot 31
Elizabeth Catlett, Head

This exquisite sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett is an important and iconic work of art made at the beginning of a great period of creativity in Mexico, reflecting an attention to form and exploration of materials characterizing the rest of Catlett's career.

Lot 31 (Head) has an estimate of $80,000 - 120,000.

William T. Williams, Chuckerbootstar Last, 1972-73, acrylic on cotton canvas, 84"x 60". 
Image: Swann Auction Galleries

Lot 85
William T. Williams, Chuckerbootstar Last

Chuckerbootstar Last, a large painting, represents the evolution of the artist's important geometric abstraction in the early 1970s. This work depicts a departure from the artist's usual primary color palette; Williams has harmonized a geometric composition in deep secondary colors--purples, greens and browns-- with a carefully textured surface. This is the first significant work by William T. Williams made after 1971 to come to auction.

Chuckerbootstar Last (Lot 85) has an estimate of $75,000 - 100,000.

An illustrated auction catalogue, with information on bidding by mail or fax, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010. View online catalogue.

For further information, and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Nigel Freeman at 212-254-4710, extension 33, or via email at

Live online bidding is also available via

All images were provided by Swann Auction Galleries.

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