Historic Auction for African-American Art from the Johnson Publishing Co.

Our Thursday, January 30 sale of African-American Art from the Johnson Publishing Company was an all-around success. The packed auction room saw all 87 lots find buyers, bringing $2.9 million—over twice the high-estimate for the auction—27 new auction records were established, and 24 artists made their market debuts.

 

“It was an honor and a thrill to close this chapter of the Johnson Publishing Company’s illustrious history with a perfect sale of their works. The sale of the collection was the perfect storm of an auction—a prestigious name anchored with significant works by important artist, but with a wonderful new group of artists fresh to the secondary market, providing numerous opportunities for collectors.”  

Nigel Freeman, director of Swann Galleries’ African-American Fine Art department, remarked on the offering from the Ebony and Jet publishers
 

Henry Ossawa Tanner to Carrie Mae Weems

 
Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled, detail, seven panels of framed chromogenic prints and sandblasted text on glass, 1996-97.
Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled, detail, seven panels of framed chromogenic prints and sandblasted text on glass, 1996-97. Sold for $305,000, a record for the artist.
 

Leading the sale was the earliest work in the collection, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s nocturnal oil on canvas Moonrise by Kasbah (Morocco), 1912, at $365,000. The high price for Tanner (second-highest at auction) was followed up closely by the most contemporary artist from the offering, Carrie Mae Weems. Weems’s 1996-97 Chicago Public Art Program commission of seven framed panels with sandblasted text on glass garnered a new auction record for the important contemporary artist at $305,000.

 

Artists Working in the 1970s

 
Dindga McCannon, The Last Farewell, oil on canvas, 1970. Sold for $161,000.
 

Many of the works in the collection came from the 1970s. Highlights included Dindga McCannon’s 1970 oil on canvas The Last Farewell. McCannon was present in the auction room as her work made its market debut to a roar of applause, at $161,000.

 
Francis A. Sprout, Azo, acrylic on canvas, 1971.
Francis A. Sprout, Azo, acrylic on canvas, 1971. Sold for $50,000.
 

Kenneth Victor Young’s vibrant 1971 oil on canvas abstraction in greens and yellows Upper Egypt crossed the block at $87,500. Fresh off its exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Francis A. Sprout’s 1971 acrylic on canvas Azo garnered $50,000, an auction debut for Sprout.

 

Auction Records

 
Loïs Mailou Jones, Bazar Du Quai, Port Au Prince, Haiti, oil on canvas, 1961. Sold for $75,000, a record for the artist.
 

A number of market mainstays saw new auction records: Richard Mayhew with Departure, oil on canvas, 2006, at $233,000; Walter H. Williams’s White Butterfly, oil on canvas, 1969, at $125,000; and Bazar Du Quai, Port Au Prince, Haiti, oil on canvas, 1961, by Loïs Mailou Jones, at $75,000.

 

Sculpture

 
Richmond Barthé, The Negro Looks Ahead, cast bronze with dark brown patina, mounted on a wooden pedestal, 1944.
Richmond Barthé, The Negro Looks Ahead, cast bronze with dark brown patina, mounted on a wooden pedestal, 1944. Sold for $50,000.
 

Elizabeth Catlett’s 1973 cast bronze sculpture Sister was won for $149,000. Additional highlights in sculpture featured Richmond Barthé, whose cast bronze bust The Negro Looks Ahead, 1944, brought $50,000.

 

“An auctioneer can wait for an entire career to have a sale like Thursday’s, but when it happens it is a transcendent feeling—a validation of all our strength together,”

Nicholas D. Lowry, Swann president, who called the sale.
 
 

Browse the complete list of results from our January 30, 2020 sale of African American Art from the Johnson Publishing Company.

More about consigning with Swann.