Auctions | May 22, 2015

Swann Galleries Announces Fall 2015 Auction: The Art of Maya Angelou


New York—On Tuesday, September 15, 2015, Swann Galleries’ African-American Fine Art department will offer The Art Collection of Maya Angelou, with more than 50 works from Dr. Angelou’s private collection-much of which has never been publicly exhibited.

Nigel Freeman, Director of African-American Fine Art at Swann Galleries said, “The collection of Dr. Angelou shows the natural affinity this great American poet, writer, thinker and educator had with many visual artists. The auction includes paintings, works on paper, fine prints and sculpture by such important African-American artists as Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Melvin Edwards, Jonathan Green and Faith Ringgold. Their common artistic interests and experiences are evident in the narrative and expressive qualities of the work in the collection-from John Biggers' market scenes to Faith Ringgold's story quilts. It will also be the first and only time the public will be able to see this private side of one of America's great cultural heroes.”


Collection highlights include a painted story quilt by Faith Ringgold, entitled Maya’s Quilt of Life. A quintessential example of Ringgold’s work, Oprah Winfrey commissioned the quilt for Dr. Angelou’s birthday in 1989. A monumental painting by John Biggers, Kumasi Market, oil and acrylic on masonite board, 1962, reflects both Biggers’ and Dr. Angelou’s interest in African culture.  

Dr. Maya Angelou was one of the most influential voices of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Also a celebrated memoirist, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist, Dr. Angelou held more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees. Dr. Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, and in 2010 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom-the nation’s highest civilian honor-by President Barack Obama.

In a statement, Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, wrote:

"Imagination and creativity were central pillars of my mother’s work life. She appreciated a well-turned, lyrical phrase as much as the lines and contours of a well sculpted figure or the transcending brush strokes that accent an image or the ones that balance the composition of colors in a painting. Art to her was a means of communicating ideas, emotions and feelings that the originating artist may not have had the words to express.    

She surrounded herself with books and objects d’art because she liked to be inspired by the creativity and genius of others. She felt that the ideas and concepts expressed in well-written books as well as the emotions and feelings evoked by intriguing and beautiful pieces of art expanded the deep, interior recesses of the soul.  

Her family is happy to have the art that she loved, bring joy and inspiration to the lives of others."

The auction preview will be open to the public, with an extended exhibition opening Tuesday, September 8. The auction will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15.

An illustrated auction catalogue will be available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at in July.

For further information and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Nigel Freeman at 212-254-4710, extension 33, or via e-mail at

First image: John Biggers, Kumasi Market, oil and acrylic on masonite board, 1962. Estimate $100,000 to $150,000.

Second image: Faith Ringgold, Maya's Quilt of Life, acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 1989. Estimate $150,000 to $250,000.