Swann Galleries’ autumn auction of African-American Fine Art on October 6 features many exciting discoveries—significant works by important artists that were previously unrecorded or never exhibited.
The earliest piece in the sale is one of these recent findings, an Untitled (Landscape) oil on canvas painting by Robert S. Duncanson. This large example of the 19th-century painter’s mid-career landscapes employs many of the romantic motifs Duncanson is known for, with figures relaxing in an idyllic, park-like landscape and classical buildings in the background (presale estimate: $60,000 to $90,000). Also from the 19th century are two landscapes by Edward M. Bannister, one depicting a Bridge and Cows, oil on canvas board, 1874, the other a Rhode Island Landscape, oil on canvas, 1893 ($8,000 to $12,000 each). A fascinating piece that represents an important collaboration is The Hubert Log Cabin, wood panel, circa 1935. Carved by sculptor Augusta Savage and painted by Norman Lewis, the piece was made during a summer they spent at the Hubert family cabin on Martha’s Vineyard. Lewis was a student of Savage’s in the early 1930s ($20,000 to $30,000). There is also a large oil on canvas by Lewis, titled Promenade, from 1961. This is the largest oil painting by the artist to come to auction since an untitled painting acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at Swann in October 2008. Promenade has never been exhibited, as it was purchased shortly after being painted in 1961, and was part of series of paintings in which the artist experimented with the gradual abstraction of his calligraphic “ritual” figures ($120,000 to $180,000). Other monumental mid-century master works by the genre’s most sought after artists are: Charles White’s impressive Work is the first large scale drawing from his important 1950s period to come to auction. Created during the height of his New York career, the drawing is an excellent example of how, in the early 1950s, White depicted working men and women on a grand scale, with an intensity of mark making and an attention to natural gestures that turned his subjects into heroic figures ($200,000 to $250,000). Desert Forms, oil on masonite, 1957, is an excellent example from the height of Hughie Lee-Smith’s mid-career paintings. It epitomizes his 1950s exploration of a modern, existential landscapes inhabited by isolated figures ($50,000 to $75,000). A significant Abstract Expressionist painting by Hale Woodruff, Rape of Europa, oil on canvas, circa 1958, documents the artist’s move from figuration to abstraction in the 1950s. This painting is one of only four known oil paintings from his Mythic series ($90,000 to $120,000). In Charles Alston’s largest work to come to auction, Untitled (Figure Composition), oil on canvas, circa 1974, he captures New York City’s mid-1970s popular street culture. The painting, which comes from his estate, is a significant late career work that marks the culmination of Alston’s large figurative painting ($60,000 to $90,000). Twins, Barkley L. Hendricks’s oil and acrylic on canvas diptych, 1977, comprises two life-size paintings that together are the first of his important “white on white” paintings to appear at auction. In the 1970s, Hendricks began a series of paintings of large figures in stylish white outfits painted against white backgrounds. Hendricks called them “double whammies,” combining the strong personalities of the subjects with the bold formal aspect of his limited palette series ($100,000 to $150,000). The auction features five paintings and watercolors from the estate of Loïs Mailou Jones, marking the first time works have been available at auction directly from her personal collection. These include Coin de la Place Maubert, Paris, oil on canvas, 1952 ($15,000 to $25,000). There are fine unique works and prints by Romare Bearden, among them the collage Untitled (Scales of Justice), circa 1976 ($40,000 to $60,000) and Baptism, color screenprint, 1975 ($20,000 to $30,000). Other noteworthy prints are Dox Thrash’s Sunday Morning, etching, 1939 ($8,000 to $12,000); Elizabeth Catlett’s Sharecropper, color linoleum cut, circa 1952 ($12,000 to $18,000); and Jacob Lawrence’s Eight Passages, color screenprints chine-collé, on St. Armand paper, 1990 ($30,000 to $50,000). Sculpture highlights include Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller’s Silence and Repose, pair of plaster bookends painted gold, circa 1934 ($7,000 to $10,000); Richmond Barthé’s African Man (Shilluk or Maasai Warrior), cast bronze, 1933 ($10,000 to $15,000); and Artis Lane’s Hurdlers, set of three cast bronze figures, painted black, 1983 )$12,000 to $18,000).