Shadows Uplifted: The Rise of African-American Fine Art at Swann Galleries on Feb. 13


NEW YORK—On Thursday, February 13, Swann Galleries’ African-American Fine Art department will offer a curated auction titled Shadows Uplifted, which highlights the development of African-American artists in the 19th century and early 20th century.

The auction includes 82 lots of paintings, sculptures, drawings, fine prints and photographs by artists who emerged from the shadows of academic and genre painting, and defined a new visual culture during the Harlem Renaissance and WPA eras. The auction’s title is taken from Frances Harper’s 1892 book, Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, one of the first novels written by an African-American female author. The struggles faced by African-American visual artists at the turn of the century mirror those of the book’s protagonist—a young woman in the antebellum South.

The auction features works by one of the earliest successful landscape painters, Edward Mitchell Bannister, whose Providence Art Club helped launch the Rhode Island School of Design, including an Untitled (Landscape with Woman Seated by a Stone Wall), oil on canvas, 1881 (estimated at $15,000 to $25,000) and an Untitled (Landscape, Trees by Water), watercolor with graphite, 1898 ($12,000 to $18,000).

Charles Ethan Porter, a Connecticut painter who went to study in Paris with the support of Samuel Clemens, is known for his floral studies, and this sale includes two fine oils on canvas, a Still Life with Roses, circa 1885-87 ($15,000 to $25,000) and Floral Composition, circa 1885-90 ($12,000 to $18,000).

No one did more to inspire other artists than Henry Ossawa Tanner, and this sale offers two of his small oil studies, a preliminary painting for his Disciples Healing the Sick, circa 1930 ($60,000 $90,000) and a rare example of his en plein air painting from Paris, an Unititled (View of the Seine), circa 1900 ($12,000 to $18,000).

Among those who followed Tanner’s lead was William H. Johnson, who embodied the romantic ideal of the dashing artist. Two of his works are featured: an Untitled watercolor depicting a Wooded Pathway, circa 1931-34, during his time in Denmark ($10,000 to $15,000) and On a John Brown Flight, screenprint with color pochoir, circa 1942-45, which is appearing at auction for the first time ($50,000 to $75,000).

Other works by ex-pat artists of note are Loïs Mailou Jones’s Nude, Paris (Etude), oil on canvas, 1938 ($15,000 to $25,000) and Marchande de Fleurs, Paris, oil on board, circa 1945-47 ($7,000 to $10,000); an oil on board triptych of an Arab Market Scene by William Edouard Scott, circa 1912-20 ($8,000 to $12,000); as well as Hale Woodruff’s Portrait of a Girl, oil on board, circa 1935-40 ($12,000 to $18,000) and an unusual example of his still life painting, Flowers, oil on cardstock, circa 1945-48 ($8,000 to $12,000).

The first work by early modern sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet—who studied at RISD—to come to auction is an enigmatic Untitled carved wood head, circa early 1930s ($35,000 to $50,000).

Additional sculpture highlights are Beulah Woodard’s African Woman, glazed terracotta, circa 1937-38 ($10,000 to $15,000); Augusta Savage’s iconic metal sculpture Lift Every Voice and Sing, a model of her famous 1939 World's Fair sculpture ($12,000 to $18,000); Sargent Claude Johnson’s 1948 terracotta sculpture The Knot and the Noose ($40,000 to $60,000); and William E. Artis’s Michael (Head of a Boy), cast bronze, circa 1950 ($8,000 to $12,000).

The social realism that defined the WPA era is found in Hughie Lee-Smith’s Coal Breakers, oil on canvas, 1938 ($80,000 to $120,000) in addition to prints by William E. Smith and Raymond Steth. Works by artists who helped found the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago include Charles White’s charcoal drawing Pensive Lass (Head of a Woman), 1936 ($15,000 to $25,000); Eldzier Cortor’s pen, ink, pastel and wash of a Nude Seated on a Bed, circa 1948 ($8,000 to $12,000); and Margaret Burroughs’s stunning portrait of a young woman, The Red Hat, oil on paper, 1936 ($10,000 to $15,000).

Printmakers are represented by the innovative Philadelphia artists Dox Thrash, Claude Clark and Allan Freelon, and by a collection of approximately 200 linoleum cut blocks by Allan Rohan Crite, dating from the late 1930s through the 1970s ($35,000 to $50,000).

The cover of the catalogue is graced by one of the best known self portraits of an African-American artist, a circa 1935 oil on canvas by James A. Porter, artist, historian and one time head of the Howard University Art Department, in which he portrays himself holding a palette in front of his easel ($12,000 to $18,000).


The auction will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 13.

The works will be on public exhibition at Swann Galleries Saturday, February 8, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, February 10 through Wednesday, February 12, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, February 13, from 10 a.m. to noon.

An illustrated auction catalogue, with information on bidding by mail or fax, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

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 email at

Live online bidding is also available via

First image: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Untitled (Head), stained and oiled wood, circa early 1930s. Estimate: $35,000 to $50,000.

Second image: Malvin Gray Johnson, Along the Harlem River, oil on board, 1925. Estimate: $40,000 to $60,000.

Auction Guide