Auctions USA

Market for African-American art continues to grow

At its sixth biannual specialist sale, Swann sets four new artist records

Hot on the heels of resurgent sales of impressionist, modern and contemporary works in London, auction records for African-American artists continued to stack up as Swann held its sixth dedicated biannual sale on 23 February in New York.

Sales were patchy but healthy enough: of 162 works offered, 118 sold (73% by lot) at a premium-inclusive total of $1.24m, just under the $1.3-1.9m total estimate. The top seller was auction virgin Malvin Gray Johnson’s best-known and celebrated oil painting Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, 1928-29, for which a collector paid $228,000 (estimate $200,000-$250,000). Four new artist records followed as institutions, collectors and dealers competed for the best works—this included a record for Sargent Claude Johnson’s tan painted terracotta figure Untitled (Standing Woman), 1933-35, which went to an unnamed institution for $52,800.

Swann’s inaugural sale of African-American art took place in February 2007, growing from specialist-in-charge Nigel Freeman’s observation of the frisson caused by African-American artists’ works on paper during regular prints and drawings sales.

“Three years ago, there was no auction market for African-American artists that even came close to their fair market value, with the exception of works by Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and Henry Ossawa Tanner”, said Mr. Freeman. “Now we have set auction records for many more important artists and have introduced over 100 African-American artists to auction”.

Swann’s market for printed and manuscript African-Americana is significantly more mature. Specialist annual sales were launched 16 years ago by Wyatt Houston Day. The latest took place on 25 February, two days after the African-American fine art sale—with matching sales statistics of 73% sold by lot (287 of 390).

Institutional interest was spurred by an African-American art history archive built over five decades by artist-writer James Amos Porter, author of the groundbreaking Modern Negro Art, 1943. Packed with correspondence, photographs, catalogues and other data, four major institutions examined it before the sale. One anonymous institution secured it for $50,400 (estimate $30,000-$40,000), described by Wyatt Day as “a very good but still modest price [considering] the richness of the prime research material”. The result was second only to the departmental record of $57,600, set last February for five hours of original 16mm film of black life in the 1920s, shot by Reverend Solomon Sir Jones.

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28 Jun 10
4:40 CET


i will always appreciate the efforts of those that continue to appreciate arts of values rather than art of race. there is another spectacular Afro American collections going on now at the corner end of jay street downtown Brooklyn on 22 chapel street. 5 ft x 10ft paintings of art biggies like Otto neal, James Brown, Denmark, Wigglesworth and doba Afolabi. Swann may love to check it out. Keep it up Swann!

9 Mar 10
18:4 CET


"Has Culture gone to Hell?" Jean Clair's experience and historic perspective has shone like a beacon, especially to those artists seeking the spiritually real that is based on the seeking of the temple of the soul instead of random arrangements and banal squalor. As stated in Atlas Shrugged, "get out of the way and let us (artists)do the work we were born to do," without the "art by think tank mentality", art as entertainment and art by public committee. Museums will continue to decline if this course is followed. It is happening now. The contemporary realists are bringing their work directly to a very thirsty and appreciative public. Museums need to go back to what worked, that people will still enthusiastically pay to see. There is a large underground of artists sidestepping the Blue blood's. "Without New blood the Blue-blood's may produce artistic idiots." Jean Clair, you are my champion. Thank you. Mary Jane Q Cross

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