Fine Sculpture by African-American Artists

Our fall 2019 auction of African-American Fine Art featured a fine selection of sculpture. Two of Augusta Savage’s most well-known works, Gamin, circa 1929, and Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp) are featured, alongside a superb example of Sargent Johnson’s work in terra cotta. An early work by artist Richard Hunt, whose sculpture can be seen in museums across the country, lends a playful note to the section, while evocative works by Elizabeth Catlett and Selma Burke provide contemplative counterpoints.

Selma Burke

Selma Burke’s Sadness is among the most significant works by Burke to come to auction. While her sculpture is scarce, her most famous work can be seen by almost anyone: she’s best-known for the bas-relief portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that came to be put on the dime. Sadness, carved in green marble, dates to 1970 and relates to a 1951 version of the figure that can be found in the Selma Burke Collection at Spelman College’s Museum of Fine Art.

Selma Burke, Sadness, carved green marble, 1970.

Elizabeth Catlett

The two sculptures in the auction by Elizabeth Catlett show the scope of her career. A striking modern cast bronze portrait of her granddaughter Naima dates to 1998—one of the artist’s last works in bronze—while a large carved mahogany sculpture of a seated woman is the earliest wood sculpture by Catlett to come to auction. The auction also features several lithographs and linoleum cuts by Catlett, who was also a prolific printmaker.

Elizabeth Catlett, Naima, cast bronze with patina and polychrome, 1998. Sold for $32,500.
Elizabeth Catlett, Seated Woman, carved mahogany, 1962. Acquired by the St. Louis Museum of Art for $389,000, a record for the artist.

Richard Hunt

Richard Hunt, Unicycle, soldered wire, circa 1956. Sold for $25,000.

Sargent Johnson

Sargent Johnson’s Head of a Negro Boy has been in the same family collection since it was acquired directly from the artist by Herbert L. Rothschild, a notable patron of the arts and silent-pictures pioneer in San Francisco. It was shown at the World’s Fair Exhibition of the Chicago Art League in 1934, and is an outstanding example of Johnson’s modernist work of the 1930s. Of the small number of stylized heads created by Johnson during this period, few are known to survive today. This sculpture exemplifies the artist’s interest in modernism and African sculpture, blending elements of both, while conveying strength and dignity as a portrait—a hallmark of Johnson’s portrayal of women and children in sculpture.

Sargent Johnson, Head of a Negro Boy, painted terra cotta, circa 1934. Sold for $125,000.

Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage, Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp), metal cast with patina, circa 1939. Sold for $21,250.
Augusta Savage, Gamin, painted plaster, circa 1929. Sold for $22,500.

African American Fine Art: Fall 2019

From Abstract Expressionists to Color Field Painters

Women of Color Featured in African-American Fine Art

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