Jun 24, 2010 - Sale 2219

Sale 2219 - Lot 17

Price Realized: $ 24,600
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 20,000 - $ 30,000
CHARLES ALSTON (1907 - 1977)
Untitled (Cityscape at Night).

Oil on canvas, circa 1950-55. 507x610 mm; 20x24 inches. Signed in oil, lower right.

Provenance: private collection.

Exhibited: New Art Center Gallery, New York, with the label on the frame back.

This is a wonderful example of Alston's urban abstraction, which he began in the late 1940s. Like Norman Lewis, Alston depicts New York City at night in a series of increasingly abstract paintings. With its cubism of vertical urban forms, this painting is related to his Harlem at Night and The City at Night, both 1948. This painting's heavier, impastoed strokes likely date this scene closer to his Blues Singer series of jazz paintings in the mid-50s with their similar sculptural, almost Cubist forms of color. Alston had his first solo exhibition at John Heller Gallery in New York City in 1953.

Alston was an avid jazz fan since his early days teaching in Harlem in the 1930s. In a 1968 interview with Al Murray, he recounted the indelible impression the music made on him: "The night life was fabulous. The corner saloons, back rooms jumped, you know, places like Hotcha and Mike's and little places that had back rooms. You'd go into Hotcha and Bobby Henderson was playing the piano, Billie Holliday was singing. You'd go across Lenox Avenue to the little bar across from Harlem Hospital and Art Tatum was playing the piano. Ethel Waters was here. The place just jumped." According to Alvia J. Wardlaw, "one constant during this period of visual experimentation was the artist's love of jazz." In this modernist painting, we see that the setting of this music--New York City at night--inspired Alston, too. Jennings p. 16; Wardlaw pp. 59-60.