NEW YORK CITY – Swann Galleries’ third auction of African-American Fine Art on Feb. 19 was its largest and highest-grossing sale in the category to date, bringing in more than $2.7 million.
Once again benchmarks were set for works by important and lesser-known African-American artists. The top lot, Building More Stately Mansions, an oil painting by famed Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, sold for $600,000 – an auction record for the artist’s work. It was purchased by the Rhode Island School of Design Museum where it will be exhibited in their new galleries of 20th century art and design. The RISD museum faced fierce competition from other bidders in the auction room and on the telephones, including other museums.
This previously unknown work is a variant of Douglas’s famous larger painting with the same title, which is in the Fisk University collection. It employs the artist’s signature combination of Art Deco and African forms in a visionary scene of soaring architectural achievement. The painting had been purchased directly from the artist by a colleague at Fisk and passed down in the family of the original owner. It had never been on public exhibition.
Another newly discovered work by Douglas in the auction was Emperor Jones, a black gouache drawing from 1926. One of few known studies for the artist’s celebrated woodcut series, it sold to a private collector for $90,000.
An auction record price was also set by Elizabeth Catlett’s Torso, Portrait of Joan, a painted terra cotta sculpture from 1960, which brought $216,000.
Also surpassing earlier artist records were Hale Aspacio Woodruff’s Europa and the Bull, oil on canvas, circa 1958, $120,000; Beauford Delaney’s Untitled, a heavily impastoed abstract oil on canvas, circa 1958, $102,200; Ernie Barnes’s Pool Hall, oil on canvas, circa 1970, $19,200; Alexander Skunder Boghossian’s The Bark of the Hanging Tree, acrylic on bark-cloth, 1977, $19,200; and James Denmark’s Untitled, mixed paper, fabric collage and oil on masonite, circa 1980, $24,000.
For more information, call 212-254-4710, or go online to www.swanngalleries.com.