Sculpture and Abstraction Shines in October 8 Sale of African-American Fine Art

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On Tuesday, October 8 Swann Galleries will offer its African-American Fine Art sale, featuring a robust offering of sculpture and abstract paintings, as well as a fine selection of contemporary figurative works in a variety of mediums. 

Above: Elizabeth Catlett, Seated Woman, carved mahogany, 1962. Estimate $100,000 to $150,000.

A scarce example of Elizabeth Catlett’s early 1960s sculpture, Seated Woman, carved mahogany, 1962, is expected to bring $100,000 to $150,000—it is the earliest wood sculpture by Catlett to come to auction. Further highlights in sculpture are two of Augusta Savage’s best-known works: Gamin, painted plaster, circa 1929, estimated to bring $20,000 to $30,000; and Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp), metal cast with patina, circa 1939, a miniature of her commission for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, available at $15,000 to $25,000. Sargent Johnson’s circa-1934 painted terra cotta sculpture, Head of a Negro Boy, is offered at $80,000 to $120,000. An outstanding example of Johnson’s modernist work of the 1930s, the stylized head has been in the same family collection since it was acquired directly from the artist by Herbert L. Rothschild—a notable patron of the arts and silent-pictures pioneer in San Francisco. Selma Burke’s Sadness carved green marble, 1970, rounds out the selection of fine sculpture at $12,000 to $18,000. 

Above: Henry Ossawa Tanner, At the Gates (Flight into Egypt), oil on panel, circa 1926-27. Estimate $100,000 to $150,000.

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s At the Gates (Flight into Egypt), circa 1926-27, oil on panel, which depicts the Holy Family’s clandestine escape to Egypt, is among the top lots in the sale and is estimated at $100,000 to $150,000. Other paintings from the early twentieth century include the beautiful and expressive Play at Dark (Westminster Street, Madison Park) by Allan Rohan Crite, oil on canvas board, 1935. His most significant painting to come to auction, the work bursts with the activity of children playing while their parents promenade. The bustling evening scene, which has been owned by the same Massachusetts family since it was acquired directly from the artist, is offered at $75,000 to $100,000. 

Above: Kenneth Victor Young, Untitled (Abstract Composition), acrylic on canvas, 1972. Estimate $80,000 to $120,000.

A choice selection of abstract works includes first-generation abstract expressionist Norman Lewis, alongside Sam Gilliam and Kenneth Victor Young, both of the Washington Color School. Highlights include works on paper by Lewis: a 1960 example of his evolving calligraphy of small dancing figures ($60,000-90,000) and a 1951 abstract composition ($10,000-15,000). Young’s monumental ten-foot-wide 1972 acrylic painting on canvas is the largest of his works to come to auction to date ($80,000-120,00), and Gilliam is present with his 1998 acrylic and polypropylene on canvas, Richer Scene ($35,000-50,000). Also of note is a striking 1966 oil on canvas by Hale Woodruff, an excellent example of the artist’s depiction of landscape and natural phenomena within the idiom of Abstract Expressionism. The canvas, which has not been shown publicly for 50 years, demonstrates Woodruff’s continued evolution through the 1960s ($75,000-100,000). 

Contemporary figurative artwork completes the sale, including Emma Amos’s Josephine and the Ostrich, a 1984 color-monotype diptych that celebrates Harlem Renaissance icon Josephine Baker and the moment she rode an ostrich-pulled cart through Berlin ($20,000-30,000). Carrie Mae Weems is on offer with the silver prints White Patty You Don’t Shine, 1987 ($20,000-30,000) and Black Woman with Chicken, 1987 ($15,000-25,000). An early work by Kehinde Wiley dates to his time as a student at the Los Angeles Country High School for the Arts ($25,000-35,000). Also of note are works by Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Sedrick Huckaby.

Exhibition opening in New York City October 3. The complete catalogue and bidding information is available at and on the Swann Galleries App.

Swann Auction Galleries is a third-generation family business as well as the world’s largest auction house for works on paper. In the last 75 years, Swann has repeatedly revolutionized the trade with such innovations as the first U.S. auction dedicated to photographs and the world’s only department of African-American Fine Art. More than 30 auctions and previews are held annually in Swann Galleries’ two-floor exhibition space in Midtown Manhattan, and online worldwide. Visit for more information.

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