Records & Results: African-American Fine Art

We held our highest-grossing auction to date on April 5, totaling $4.5M—more than $1M over the high estimate of the sale. The 160 works that made up the highly curated offering of African-American Fine Art represented auction debuts, recent rediscoveries and masterpieces from some of the most influential movements of the twentieth century. Of the nine lots that exceeded $100,000, four were new artist records and a further two represented the second-highest price achieved by that artist.


norman lewis

Lot 45: Norman Lewis, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1956. Sold April 5, 2018 for $725,000.


An untitled abstract painting of a city scene by Norman Lewis led the sale, finishing to applause at $725,000, above a high estimate of $250,000. It was the second-highest price ever paid for a work by the Abstract Expressionist; that record, $965,000, was set by Swann in December 2015.


beauford delaney

Lot 33: Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Village Street Scene), oil on canvas, 1948. Sold April 5, 2018 for $557,000, a record for the artist.


Another abstracted city scene brought a record for Beauford Delaney at $557,000, well above the high estimate of $250,000. Untitled (Village Street Scene), 1948, is a thickly impastoed oil painting of one of Delaney’s preferred subjects: the bustling streets of Greenwich Village in Manhattan. It was purchased by an institution.


charles white

Lot 50: Charles White, O Freedom, charcoal with crayon and wash, 1956. Sold April 5, 2018 for $509,000, a record for the artist.


Charles White’s inspiring life-size charcoal drawing O Freedom, 1956, had not been seen publicly in more 60 years before the auction’s preview. It quickly surpassed its high estimate of $300,000, selling to a bidder on the phone for $509,000, a record for the artist.



Lot 55: Jacob Lawrence, 19. Tension on the High Seas, tempera on board, 1956. Sold April 5, 2018 for $413,000.


One of the most exciting pieces in the sale was a recently rediscovered canvas from Jacob Lawrence’s important series, Struggle…From the History of the American People. The work, 19. Tension on the High Seas, was one of five missing panels from the series that was intended to chronicle the history of the United States from 1776 to 1817. It was purchased by a collector for $413,000, more than four times its high estimate. Nearly all works by Lawrence offered in the sale found buyers, including a pen and ink drawing of A Negro Woman, 1958, which sold for $8,125.



Lot 28: Elizabeth Catlett, Head of a Woman (Woman), oil on canvas, 1942-44. Sold April 5, 2018 for $209,000.


The second oil painting by Elizabeth Catlett ever to come to auction, Head of a Woman (Woman), 1942-44, dates from the artist’s early period in New York. It was purchased by an institution for $209,000, the second-highest price paid for a work by Catlett, above a high estimate of $120,000.


ed clark

Lot 133: Ed Clark, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 1990. Sold April 5, 2018 for $93,750, a record for the artist.


Additional records were achieved throughout the auction. Highlights included $93,750 for Ed Clark’s significant untitled abstract canvas, which went to a collector, and $245,000 for Primordial Landscape, 1967, a postwar abstraction by Hale Woodruff, double its high estimate. Two important works by William H. Johnson, Jitterbugs II and III, circa 1941, set consecutive records for the artist. Neither work had ever appeared at auction and few prints are known of either. Jitterbugs II quickly surpassed its high estimate of $40,000, selling to a collector for $112,500, briefly a record, before Jitterbugs III, at the same estimate, peaked at $118,750. Records were also set for Camille Billops, May Howard Jackson, Louise Jefferson, William Majors, Richard Mayhew, Robert Neal, Merton Simpson, Vincent D. Smith and Hartwell Yeargans.

The next auction of African-American Fine Art at Swann will be held October 4, 2018. The house is currently accepting quality consignments.