Robert Gwathmey Paintings in Tomorrow’s American Art Auction
Tomorrow morning’s auction of American Art features strong examples of drawings and paintings by a wide range of artists. Some of the most striking works in the sale are by noted Southern artist Robert Gwathmey (1903 – 1988). Two pieces in particular, Prologue II and Southern Farmer, are the largest figural works by the artist to ever come up at auction.
Gwathmey is known as one of the most celebrated painters of African-American life in the rural South. An outsider to the African-American communities he depicted, his observational and figurative works are rendered without sentimentality, imbuing an unromanticized dignity into his subjects. His high level of empathy was aided by his own time working on a tobacco farm in North Carolina. Herecalled, “Harvesting tobacco is difficult… I picked tobacco because I wanted to know the whole story… I couldn’t sit there and make a sort of representational [painting] and calling it priming tobacco, if I hadn’t done it myself.”
As an artist, he was heavily influenced by Picasso, whose influence can be seen in the tobacco leaves in Southern Farmer, and also largely influenced through his life’s travels. As a young adult he worked on a ship, stopping in ports in Europe and the Americas, and visited museums along the way. His style may also have been influenced by his visits to European cathedrals, and he mentioned at one point that “after visiting the cathedral in Chartres I was willing to believe that the stained glass there was the finest visual art expression ever.”