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Sam Gilliam masterpiece

Main Auction Galleries to sell Sam Gilliam masterpiece Sept. 13

Sam Gilliam masterpiece
Sam Gilliam Jr. (b. 1933), Ray I, acrylic on canvas, signed titled and dated to verso 1970, 46in x 104in sight. Provenance: Acquired from Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. Acquired by Mary Bergstein from descendants of family of the purchaser. Estimate: $700,000-$900,000. Main Auction Galleries image

CINCINNATI – Main Auction Galleries, a Queen City landmark auction house that has been owned by the Karp family since 1870, will feature a large and important painting by Sam Gilliam at its Premier Auction on Sunday, Sept. 13. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1933 and working in Washington, D.C., Gilliam has been internationally recognized for the past 25 years as the foremost contemporary African American Color Field painter. He is credited with having advanced the inventions associated with the Washington Color School and Abstract Expressionism to a new level.

Gilliam painted the acrylic on canvas titled Ray I (above), which is nearly 9 feet wide by 4 feet high, in 1970. Gilliam paintings from the late ’60s and early ’70s are considered among his most important works.

“A Gilliam painting for an auction house our size from a local estate is a dream come true,” said Jonas Karp, vice president and co-owner of Main Auction Galleries. “To have the opportunity just to sell something of this magnitude is an amazing feeling.”

The painting has solid provenance, having been purchased from Solway Gallery in Cincinnati, which Karp said represented Gilliam at the time.

“It’s titled Ray I. It’s the first one of that series, which goes up to Ray VIII. I assume it’s referencing a ray of sunshine,” said Karp, noting the spectrum of colors that fans out across the canvas.

Gilliam was known to use a technique of folding a freshly painted canvas on itself, allowing the colors and geometric patterns to dissolve into each other. Yet, Karp says the canvas of Ray I is perfectly flat and the folded effect one sees is an optical illusion.

Karp recalled that Main Auction Gallery sold a smaller Gilliam painting many years ago, “when he was bringing two to three thousand.”

“I actually bid $10,000 on one outside of here and still regret not buying it – but that was a long time ago,” said Karp.

Prices for Gilliam paintings have risen aggressively since 2000. That may be because he is still active and working. “Everybody that I’ve talked to who has met him says he’s one of the best people they have ever met. I really think that helps an artist,” said Karp.

The record auction price for a Gilliam painting is $2,172,500, set at Christie’s in New York in 2018. Ray I is estimated at $700,00-$900,000.

Another notable artwork in the auction is a large powder-coated metal wall relief (below) by Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-2008). The work, which measures 42 by 40 by 8½ inches, is composed of photo screened decals and hand-painting. It is number 19 from an edition of 21. Estimate: $10,000-$15,000.

Sam Gilliam masterpiece
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), ‘Tibetan Locks,’ powder coated metal wall relief with photo screened decals and hand painting. Signed, numbered 19 of 21, 42in wide x 40in deep x 8½in. Estimate: $10,000-$15,000. Main Auction Galleries image

Offered at auction for the first time, according to Karp, will be two large abstract oil paintings by Ohio artist Ronald Newman (b. 1937). “The original price for his paintings were in the upper 20s and lower 30 thousands. He sold several paintings for over $50,000 privately in his lifetime,” said Karp, adding, “if these do well, we’ll have more.” Estimate: $8,000-$12,000.

Sam Gilliam masterpiece
Ronald Newman (b. 1937), Untitled, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1968 to verso, 100 x 64in sight. Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist. Estimate: $8,000-$12,000. Main Auction Galleries image

Among the eight sculptures offered in the auction are two bronze figures by Arthur Putnam (American, 1873-1930), which, according to Karp, represent the artist’s very first commission. Newspaper publisher E.W. Scripps commissioned Putnam to create five figures for the Scripps Ranch at Miramar, near San Diego. The 2-foot-high figures are from that commission and marked “FD Rome’s Bronze Foundry, SF” (San Francisco). Estimate: $10,000-$15,000.

Sam Gilliam masterpiece
Arthur Putnam (1873-1930), bronze, stamped ‘FD Rome’s Foundry SF’ and signed ‘A. Putnam,’ 20in wide x 16in deep x 25 1/8in high, E.W. Scripps commission. Estimate: $10,000-$15,000. Main Auction Galleries image

Two more sculptures in the sale are by William (Willie) Wolff Joseph (American, 1919-2005). One is a patinated bronze on its original travertine base, which Karp describes as the finest example I’ve ever seen of his work. “If you want to own a Willie Joseph, this would be it,” said Karp. Estimate: $3,000-$5,000.

Sam Gilliam masterpiece
William ‘Willie’ Wolff Joseph (1919-2005), Untitled, 1950, patinated bronze on travertine, 18in wide x 21in deep x 66in high. Estimate: $3,000-$5,000. Main Auction Galleries image


The furniture highlight of the sale is a Louie XV parlor set attributed to Nicolas Quinibert Foliot, circa 1750. The suite is composed of two giltwood canapes (sofas), a pair of fauteuils (armchairs) and two chaises D’epoque (slipper chairs). “I know a lot of younger people just don’t get it, but it’s museum-quality, something you would see in a palace … with royalty,” said Karp. Estimate: $30,000-$50,000.

Sam Gilliam masterpiece
Half of the six-piece French 18th century parlor set attributed to Nicolas Quinibert Foliot, circa 1750, Louie XV period, original gilding. Provenance: Classic Antiques (Keith Kincaid) Los Gatos, Calif. Original purchase price $50,000. Estimate: $30,000-$50,000. Main Auction Galleries image

The auction will conclude with a fine selection of sterling silver, led by an outstanding six-piece repoussé tea set by S. Kirk & Sons. “It’s an incredible complete set. What makes it different are the flowers on the lid handles,” noted Karp. Estimate: $8,000-$12,000.

Sam Gilliam masterpiece
S. Kirk & Sons six-piece sterling silver repoussé tea set, 156 troy ounces. Estimate: $8,000-$12,000.

“When we curated this sale, we wanted to have a great variety of things … to create the maximum interest level. Whether it sterling, modern sculpture, art, furniture, I didn’t want anything in there that would be overlooked or ignored,” said Karp.

Previews will be available by appointment. The auction will begin Sunday, Sept. 13, at 1 p.m. EDT

For details contact Main Auction Galleries at 513-621-1280 or

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Sam Gilliam masterpiece