Malvin Gray Johnson Painting in Swann African-American Fine Art Auction February 2010

Swann Galleries’ auction of African-American Fine Art on February 23, 2010, will offer approximately 160 lots from many notable collections and estates, including several museum-quality works. The sale’s top lot, estimated between $200,000 and $250,000, is an early masterpiece of American painting, and one the of most celebrated African-American paintings of the first half of the 20th century. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by Malvin Gray Johnson is both the artist’s best known painting and his first painting to come to auction.

Malvin Gray Johnson, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,
oil on canvas, 1928-29. Estimate $200,000-250,000

Largely due to his sudden death at the age of 38, Johnson’s paintings are extremely scarce–there are only 60 known works. 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 for painting in 1929. It was recently rediscovered and shown in the artist’s first retrospective at North Carolina Central University Museum in Durham, NC in 2002 and at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2003.

According to The Smithsonian: “Malvin Gray Johnson was active during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s. He simplified the forms of his subjects and occasionally emphasized his African past by including African imagery in his paintings.”