Museum-quality works to be offered at Swann auction of African-American Fine Art

NEW YORK — On Feb. 23, Swann Galleries will offer an exceptional auction of African-American Fine Art that ranges from rare early 20th century paintings and sculptures through desirable contemporary works. The sale contains approximately 160 lots from many notable collections and estates, and includes many museum-quality works. The sale will commence at 2:30 p.m. Live, online bidding is also available via

The top lot is an early masterpiece of American painting, and one of the most celebrated African-American paintings of the first half of the 20th century: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by Malvin Gray Johnson, oil on canvas, 1928-29. It is the artist’s best known painting, and also the first painting by Johnson to come to auction (estimate: $200,000-$250,000). Due to the artist’s untimely death at age 44, his paintings are very scarce. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was the first painting by an African American to receive both public and critical acclaim in the United States when it won the Harmon Foundation prize in 1929. It was recently rediscovered and shown in the artist’s first retrospective at North Carolina Central University Museum in Durham, N.C., in 2002 and at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2003.

Another scarce work from the first half of the 20th century is Untitled (Standing Woman) by Sargent Johnson, painted terra cotta, circa 1933-35 ($30,000-$50,000). The piece is one of few known Johnson works from the early 1930s. It was a gift from the artist and has remained in a private collection until now.

Other featured early works include Edward Bannister’s Untitled (Rhode Island Landscape), oil on canvas, circa 1895, which is the largest Bannister oil painting to come to auction and an excellent example of his late painting ($20,000-$30,000); Richard L. Brown’s An Indian Mound, watercolor, circa 1914, only the second artwork by the painter, who died at 24, to come to auction ($5,000-$7,000); William Edouard Scott’s Dr. Ulysses Grant Dailey, oil on canvas, circa 1930-35, the portrait of successful Chicago surgeon, writer, and teacher, is the first known portrait by Scott to come to auction ($15,000-$25,000); and several photographs by James VanDerZee, among them Untitled (Harlem Backyard Banquet), silver print, 1920s ($3,000-$5,000).

Scarce examples of early modern sculpture include Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller’s Peeping Tom of Coventry, plaster, painted gold, 1899, the first important sculpture and the earliest work by Fuller to come to auction ($10,000-$15,000); Selma Burke’s Untitled (Head of Asadata Dafora), sandstone, circa 1935-40, a representation of Dafora, a drummer, singer, dancer, composer and choreographer from Sierra Leone ($30,000-$50,000); and Hayward Oubre’s Kneeling Mother (Mother and Child), cast bronze, 1957, from the estate of the artist ($20,000-$30,000).

Modern masters are also well represented, with excellent examples in both painting and works on paper. Jacob Lawrence’s Untitled (Two Card Players), gouache on brown composition board, circa 1941-42, is a recently discovered work from the early New Orleans period when the artist made his acclaimed The Legend of John Brown series ($20,000-$30,000).

There is a double-sided painting by Hughie Lee-Smith, with the dramatic Untitled (Couple on a Rooftop) oil on canvas, circa 1953-57—one of the most recognizable of Lee-Smith’s subjects, created during his most desirable mid-1950s Detroit period—on one side, and an earlier scene on the reverse ($50,000-$75,000).

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From the same era are Norman Lewis’s Midnight Carnaval, watercolor, pen and ink on paper, 1960, in the artist’s most sought-after style ($50,000-$75,000); and Charles White’s Children’s Hour, conte crayon and charcoal on illustration board, 1960, which explores themes of childhood innocence and discovery ($60,000-$90,000).

Contemporary highlights include the impressive Jackie Sha-La-La (Jackie Cameron) by Barkley L. Hendricks, oil and acrylic on canvas, 1975, artist’s second significant figurative work to come to auction, and a great example of his 1970s life-sized representations of young, hip models and friends ($40,000-$60,000); and David Hammons’s Untitled (Body Print), pigment, ink and colored pencils on wove paper, 1977, an excellent, colorful example of Hammons’s early, unique body prints ($80,000-$100,000).

The auction also includes a survey of scarce paintings and works on paper from the WPA era, including works by Allan R. Crite, Roy DeCarava, Allan Freelon and Hughie Lee-Smith, and other striking post-war paintings by artists such as Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney, Betty Blayton, Haywood “Bill” Rivers and Charles Searles.

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Photos courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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