Records & Results: The Artists of the WPA — January 25, 2024

Swann Galleries opened the winter 2024 season with the fourth iteration of The Artist of the WPA. The timed online auction closed Thursday, January 25, with an 89% sell-through rate by lot, earning $595,286 and delivering six auction records.

“I’m pleased with another successful auction dedicated to the artists of the WPA. The American artists who participated in the New Deal art programs not only benefited fiscally from the government funding. Under the structured easel painting exhibitions, print workshops, and juried competitions for federal building decoration projects, these artists put in their 10,000 hours, emerging as seasoned experts of their craft, and the Post-War era of art blossomed in America. Of the many printmakers, photographers, painters, and designers represented in our January timed auction, six achieved the highest value, world auction records,” noted Harold Porcher, director of Modern & Post-War Art at Swann and the specialist for the sale.

Auction Records

Records included artist records for James Russell Sherman with two mural studies for the Marion, Iowa, Post Office ($15,000); Isaac Friedlander’s Our Daily Bread, etching, 1935 ($15,000); Joseph de Martini’s Six Day Bicycle Race, Madison Square Garden, oil on board, circa 1941 ($12,500); and George Rodgers Barber with a circa 1938 painting created for a WPA mural competition funded by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts ($7,000). Print records included Steel Town Panorama, color screenprint, 1941, by Harry Gottlieb ($8,750); and Cement Finishers, wood engraving, 1939, by Leon Gilmour ($3,500).

Joseph de Martini, Six Day Bicycle Race, Madison Square Garden, oil on board, circa 1941. Sold for $12,500, a record for the artist.

Auction Highlights

Claude Clark, Drafting, oil on board, circa 1940-41. Sold for $17,500.

Additional highlights featured Claude Clark’s circa 1940-41 oil-on-board painting Drafting, a scarce image of an African-American architect or architectural student, and the top lot of the auction ($17,500); Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (Variant), silver print, 1936, printed circa 1990s ($16,250); Palmer Hayden’s On the Jersey Side, oil on canvas, circa late 1930s ($15,000); and Raphael Soyer’s Untitled (Portrait of a Student), oil on canvas, circa 1930 ($8,125).