Monday, February 3, 2014

Swann Galleries: African-American Fine Art Sale 2338

Swann Auction Galleries' upcoming African-American Sale, Shadows Uplifted: The Rise of African-American Fine Art, focuses on 19th century, Works Progress Administration (WPA), and Harlem Renaissance artists whose work helped to shape the landscape of American art. Shadows Uplifted: The Rise of African-American Fine Art, Sale 2338, will be held on February 13, 2014. It includes 82 lots of paintings, sculptures, drawings, fine prints, and photography by artists who emerged from the shadows of academic and genre painting, and defined a new visual culture during the Harlem Renaissance and WPA eras. These treasures capture many of the earliest, select, and scarce works from this time period.

According to Swann Galleries, "the auction's title is taken from Frances Harper's 1892 book , Iola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted, one of the first novels written by an African-American female author. The struggles faced by African-American visual artists at the turn of the century mirror those of the book's protagonist-- a young woman in antebellum South. 

Some highlights of Shadows Uplifted follow:

Lot 14
Henry  Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
Study for Disciples Healing the Sick

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Study for Disciples Healing the Sick. Oil on thin plywood panel, circa 1930, 10½"x 13¾"
Image: Swann Auction Galleries
Study for Disciples Healing the Sick, a wonderfully modern and painterly oil, is an excellent example of Tanner's late studies for his Biblical scenes. As preliminary works, Tanner experimented in palette, medium and composition in these small scale paintings. This Study, Lot 14, was one of the studies made in preparation for the much larger painting, Disciples Healing the Sick, circa 1930, 36"x 48", in the collection of the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.

Study for Disciples Healing the Sick has an estimate of $60,000 - $90,000.

Lot 25
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet (1890-1960)
Untitled (Head)

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Untitled (Head). Stained and oiled wood, circa early 1930s, 12½"x 6½"x7"
Image: Swann Auction Galleries

Untitled (Head) is the first work by early modern sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, who studied at Rhode Island School of Design, to come to auction. This enigmatic and imposing untitled carved wood head dates from the early 1930s.

This androgynous head is most similar in its material, and simplified polished features to Prophet's polychrome wood Discontent, circa 1929. Instead of a skull cap, Discontent is cloaked in a cowl but shares the distinctive Roman nose and features of this untitled head. Lot 25 has an estimate of $35,000 - 50,000.

Additional sculpture highlights are Beulah Ecton Woodward's African Head, Lot 58 (estimate $10,000 - $15,000); Augusta Savage's iconic Lift Every Voice and Sing, Lot 59 (estimate of $12,000 - $18,000); Sargent Claude Johnson's The Knot and the Noose, Lot 79 (estimate of $40,000 - $60,000); and William E. Artis' Michael (Head of a Boy), Lot 82 (estimate of $8,000 - $12,000).

Lot 28
James A. Porter (1905-1970)
James A. Porter, Self-Portrait.
Oil on linen canvas, circa 1935, 14"x 12" 
Image: Swann Auction Galleries

James A. Porter, artist, art historian, and head of the Howard University Art Department, shows himself here as a young artist at his easel. Porter was widely exhibited in the 1930s at such venues as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, the Baltimore Museum, and the Harmon Foundation (New York). In 1943, Porter's seminal Modern Negro Art was published; it was one of the first comprehensive academic studies of African-American art.

This work, Self-Portrait, is the cover image for Sale 2338, and it is the first portrait in oil on canvas by Porter to come to auction. Its estimate is $12,000 - $18,000.

Lot 55
Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999)
Coal Breakers

Hughie Lee-Smith, Coal Breakers. Oil on canvas, 1938, 30¼" x 25¼" 
Illustrated: King-Hammond, Leslie. Hughie Lee-Smith, plate 5, page 17. Image: Swann Auction Galleries

Lot 55 is a scarce early painting by Hughie Lee-Smith from the late 1930s, and it is one of his earliest paintings to come to auction. Coal Breakers (1938) is Lee-Smith's first known social-realist oil painting, and an important early manifestation of his long interest in depicting figures in desolate landscapes. Coal Breakers is the top lot in Sale 2338 and has an estimate of $80,000 - $120,000.

Printmakers are represented in Sale 2338 by Dox Thrash, Claude Clark, Allan Freelon, Hayward L. Oubre, Albert Alexander Smith, and others, including a collection of approximately 200 linoleum cut blocks (Lot 47) by Allan Rohan Crite.

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.

Live online bidding is available. Also, you may make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please call Swann's bid department (212-254-4710, ext. 0) during business hours (Monday - Friday, 10 AM - 6 PM). For further information, please contact Nigel Freeman, Director (African-American Fine Art Department) at 212-254-4710, extension 33, or via e-mail at

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