SARGENT JOHNSON (1888 - 1967) Untitled (Negro Mother).
Copper with paint, 1935-6. Approximately 306x165x51 mm; 12x6 1/2x2 inches. Incised signature on the verso.
Provenance: private collection, Texas (1966).
Untitled (Negro Mother) is an excellent and very scarce work in copper repoussé by Sargent Johnson from the mid-1930s. In this defining mid-career body of work, Johnson incorporated themes from African sculpture and modernist design to create powerful representations of African-American womanhood - epitomized by his iconic Negro Woman, circa 1935, in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Johnson elevated the strength and dignity of everyday African-American women in his sculpture, infusing even small works like this mask with a commanding presence.
This copper mask by Johnson is only the second of its kind to come to auction. Aside from the mask which sold at Swann Galleries on October 7, 2010, we have located eigth other examples of Johnson's masks, and all but one are in museum collections. Three are in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; others are in the collections of the Huntington, the Newark Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art and the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum. The two most similar copper artworks, which help date this one, are Negro Mother, 1935 and Mask, 1936, in the SFMOMA collection. Both gifted from the Albert M. Bender Collection, these share the black bands of hair with gold. Negro Mother is the closest to this untitled work - less like African masks, they share a sensitive representation of an African-American woman's features.