Auction Highlights: The Artists of the WPA — Timed Sale Closing January 25, 2024

Claude Clark, Drafting, oil on board, circa 1940-41. Estimate $12,000 to $18,000.

Many artists honed their craft while employed in New Deal programs, resulting in this auction’s wide range of objects, including photographs, prints, posters, paintings, mural studies, dioramas, and work program signage. This will be Swann’s fourth annual offering devoted to The Artists of the WPA.

Dorothea Lange’s connection to her subject is inherent, but her mastery of capturing moving and thought-provoking compositions was developed through practice. A variant on her Migrant Mother, 1936, printed 1990s, gives an alternative look at one of the most recognizable images from the Great Depression. Among paintings are works by Robert Gwathmey and Joseph Solman. These artists pushed the boundaries of subject and format with themes of social justice and modernist sensibilities. Solman’s The Excavation is a great example of his exploration of themes and aesthetics not widely accepted in the American art market at the time. Posters include works promoting informed participation in democracy, as well as advertisements for the 1939 World’s Fair. 

Conceived out of crisis, the Federal Art Project was instrumental in the birth and development of modern and contemporary printmaking and the widespread utilization of mediums and styles that have become synonymous with American art. Printmakers in the sale include Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and their contemporaries.

Thomas Hart Benton, Departure of the Joads, lithograph, commissioned by Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation from The Grapes of Wrath, 1939. Estimate $12,000 to $18,000.
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (variant), silver print, 1936, printed circa 1990s. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000.
Joseph Solman, Watching an Excavation, oil on canvas, 1938. Estimate $6,000 to $8,000.
Robert Gwathmey, Flower Freshness, oil on canvas. Estimate $6,000 to $8,000.

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