New Auction Record for Richmond Barthé at $629k in African-American Fine Art at Swann

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Sale 2535; June 4, 2020  Sale total: $3,517,917
Estimates for sale as a whole: $2,316,000-$3,427,500
We offered 187 lots; 165 sold (88% sell-through rate by lot)
All prices include Buyer’s Premium.
Sale 2535; June 4, 2020

Sale total: $3,517,917
Estimates for sale as a whole: $2,316,000-$3,427,500
We offered 187 lots; 165 sold (88% sell-through rate by lot)
All prices include Buyer’s Premium.

New York—Swann Galleries’ sale of African-American Fine Art on June 4 was met with much fanfare, despite an online-only format due to social distancing guidelines in New York City. The sale bested its high estimate and totaled $3.5 million. The auction resulted in numerous auction records and had an 88% sell-through rate by lot. 

The sale was led with an artist record for Richmond Barthé, whose cast bronze sculpture Feral Benga sold to a collector for $629,000. The work, which was modeled in 1935 and cast in 1986, represents the culmination of Barthé’s study of the figure in sculpture, anatomy and dance in the 1930s, and his pioneering realization of an ideal male nude. “We had a number of interested parties who together swiftly bid the lot up to around $100,000, but the bidding quickly became a battle between two very determined collectors. Feral Benga is the sculptor’s best-known work and a notable artwork from the Harlem Renaissance making it a desirable work for collectors,” noted Nigel Freeman, the houses director of African-American Fine Art, of the record-setting price.

Additional works in sculpture included Elizabeth Catlett’s 1975 carved mahogany form of a standing woman, which brought $125,00; Simone Leigh’s 2001 salt-fired stoneware vessel, which earned $75,000; and James W. Washington, Jr.’s 1971 carved stone sculpture Life, which brought a record for the artist at $18,750.

David Hammons’s 1965 paper collage of two raised fists was the earliest of the artist’s works to be seen at auction. The work came across the block at $137,000. Further works from the post-war period featured Romare Bearden’s Aphrodite, a 1973 collage and acrylic work from his The Prevalence of Ritual series, which saw $106,250.

A run of paintings by artist and athlete Ernie Barnes proved to be successful with all five of the works on offer finding buyers. Highlights included New Shoes, circa 1970, which set a record for the artist at $68,750, as well as In the Beginning, circa 1970, and Pool Hustlers, circa 1969, both offered in artist-built frames, sold for $57,500 and $55,000, respectively. 

Photography featured a portfolio of 18 mounted silver and sepia-toned prints of various families from the Harlem Renaissance, 1905-38, by James VanDerZee, which saw $35,000. LaToya Ruby Frazier made her market debut with two works in the sale: Gramps on His Bed, silver print, 2002, at $10,625, and Grandma Ruby’s Porcelain Dolls, silver print, 2004, at $9,375.

Highlights in abstraction included Betty Blayton’s 1971 oil and collage tondo Together, which earned a record for the artist at $35,000, and Sam Gilliam’s Horses Upside Down, acrylic on polypropylene on canvas, 1998, at $125,000. A run of oil on paper abstractions by Norman Lewis rounded out the genre. 

“I am very pleased with what was an exciting and successful auction. The African-American secondary art market showed its resilience in Thursday’s sale. We saw continued strong results for artists like Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam and David Hammons, generally across the post-war market. We also set new auction record price levels for Richmond Barthé, Ernie Barnes, Betty Blayton, Emilio Cruz and Lucille Malakia Roberts, as well as contemporary artists like Michael Cummings, Franks Deceus, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Suzanne Jackson. The success of this sale also shows how Swann has embraced this new realm of remote bidding for our live auctions. It all went remarkably well, including over a hundred clients using our app. With great planning and coordination, our whole sales team did an amazing job,” Freeman concluded of the sale.

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Top lots Prices with buyer’s premium
10*Richmond Barthé, Feral Benga, cast bronze, with dark brown patina, modeled in 1935,  cast in 1986.  $629,000
50John Biggers, Women, Ghana, oil on board, circa 1960.  $269,000
69David Hammons, Untitled, paper collage and tempera on board, 1965.  $137,000
99Elizabeth Catlett, Untitled (Standing Woman), carved mahogany, mounted on wooden base, 1975. $125,000
158Sam Gilliam, Horses Upside Down, acrylic and polypropylene on canvas, 1998.  $125,000
94Romare Bearden, Aphrodite, collage and acrylic, with pencil and ink on board, 1973. $106,250
143Emma Amos, A Well Balanced Meal, acrylic and fabric collage on canvas with Kente cloth borders, 1990. $87,500
37Norman Lewis, Untitled (Processional Composition), oil and ink on paper, 1962.  $81,250
176Simone Leigh, Untitled, salt fired stoneware, 2001. $75,000
76*Ernie Barnes, New Shoes, acrylic on canvas, circa 1970. $68,750
45 Norman Lewis, Untitled, oil on paper, 1959. $62,500
74Ernie Barnes, In the Beginning, acrylic on canvas, with artist-built frame, circa 1970. $57,500
77Ernie Barnes, Pool Hustlers, acrylic on canvas, with artist-built frame, circa 1969.  $55,000
41Walter H. Williams, Untitled (Boy in a Field), oil and sand on board, circa 1956-59. $52,500
170Elizabeth Catlett, The Family, cast bronze, with a brushed patina, mounted on wooden base, 2002. $52,500
75Ernie Barnes, Marble Shooter, acrylic on canvas, 1969.  $45,000
44 Norman Lewis, Untitled (Figure Composition), oil on paper, 1961. $44,200
90 Robert Neal, Letter From Vietnam, oil on board, circa 1972-75.  $37,500
4James VanDerZee, portfolio of 18 mounted silver and sepia-toned prints, 1905-38.  $37,500
87*Betty Blayton, Together, oil and collage on canvas, 1971.  $35,000

Additional Records: Lot 32, Lot 34, Lot 46, Lot 55, Lot 82, Lot 113, Lot 152, Lot 173, and Lot 181.

Market Debuts: LaToya Ruby Frazier

Key:  * = Auction Record

For Nicholas D. Lowry’s statement regarding Black Lives Matter visit here.

Additional highlights can be found here.


Lot 10: Richmond Barthé, Feral Benga, cast bronze, with dark brown patina, modeled in 1935, cast in 1986. Sold for $629,000, a record for the artist.

Lot 183: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Gramps on His Bed, silver print, 2002. Sold for $10,625, an auction debut for the artist.

Lot 87: Betty Blayton, Together, oil and collage on canvas, 1971. Sold for $35,000, a record for the artist.

Specialist: Nigel Freeman • [email protected] • 212-254-4710 x 33

Communications Director: Alexandra Nelson • [email protected] • 212-254-4710 x 19

Public Relations Associate: Kelsie Jankowski • [email protected] • 212-254-4710 x 23

Social media: @swanngalleries

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Swann Auction Galleries is a third-generation family business as well as the world’s largest auction house for works on paper. In the last 75 years, Swann has repeatedly revolutionized the trade with such innovations as the first U.S. auction dedicated to photographs and the world’s only department of African-American Fine Art. More than 30 auctions and previews are held annually in Swann Galleries’ two-floor exhibition space in Midtown Manhattan, and online worldwide. Visit for more information.

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