NEW YORK — Leading names in modern and contemporary African American art outperformed estimates in spirited bidding at Swann Auction Galleries on October 19. The 216-lot sale’s complete results are available for viewing at LiveAuctioneers.
The sale’s highest-estimated lot, Untitled by Sam Gilliam (1933-2022), hammered just above its low estimate at $160,000 ($208,000 with buyer’s premium).
Instead, it was the work of Alma W. Thomas (1891-1978) that delivered the most exuberant results. Thomas, who for most of her career taught art at a Washington, D.C. junior high school, grew in stature to become recognized as a leading Expressionist.
Etude, an acrylic on arches paper from 1968, hammered at $130,000 ($169,000 with buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $50,000-$75,000, while Transcendental sold at $120,000 ($156,000 with buyer’s premium).
Hard-edged geometric abstractions are the domain of Al Loving (1935-2005). His precise work leaves the viewer’s eye with a myriad directions to view each piece, such as in Janice, a 1970 acrylic on shaped cotton canvas. Active bidding drove Janice from a start of $44,000 to a hammer of $120,000 ($156,000 with buyer’s premium), well above its estimate of $60,000-$90,000.
One lot in the sale came with a very interesting past. Untitled (Flight Into Egypt) is thought to be a design study by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) for his eventual Flight Into Egypt of 1923. The first African American artist to gain international acclaim, Tanner was known for his biblically themed paintings, which he produced as an expatriate in France. Untitled was thought by his son and documentarian Jessie O. Tanner and others to be the famous artwork’s design study (the original hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). It sold for $90,000 ($117,000 with buyer’s premium), far above the $40,000-$60,000 estimate.