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Estimate: $ 40,000 - $ 60,000
EDWIN A. HARLESTON (1882 - 1931) Miss Bailey With the African Shawl.
Oil on canvas, 1930. 762x660 mm; 30x26 inches. Signed in oil, lower right.
Provenance: the artist; Edwina Harleston Whitlock; thence by descent to the current owner.
Exhibited: Exhibition of the Work of Negro Artists, the Harmon Foundation at the Art Center, New York, February 16 - 28, 1931; Edwin A. Harleston: Painter of an Era, 1882-1931, Your Heritage House Museum, Detroit, 1983, traveling exhibition; Against All Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation, the Newark Museum, Newark, January 13 - April 15, 1990, traveling exhibition; Avery Research Center, Charleston, SC, 2006.
Illustrated: Edward Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, p. 3 (second section); Against All Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation, the Newark Museum, Newark, pl. XL, p. 130.
Edwin A. Harleston made his reputation as a talented portrait artist in the early 20th century. He was one of the few African-American artists of the period to benefit from an elite university education. He moved from Charleston to Boston in 1906 upon his acceptance as a junior at Harvard University, after completing his B.A. from Clark Atlanta University. But he soon decided to pursue his love of drawing and painting instead, and enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He was the only African American in his first-year class of 232 students. However, financial difficulties kept Harleston from completing his studies in Boston until 1912.
Harleston painted while working in the family funeral business after returning to Charleston after World War I. In 1920, Harleston married Elise Forrest, a photographer, and two years later, they opened a studio--the first of its kind in Charleston. Harleston developed his reputation for portraiture, winning several prestigious commissions like the portrait of industrialist Pierre S. Du Pont in 1924. At the request of Aaron Douglas, he assisted in painting murals for Fisk University in 1930. Edward Ball's chronicle of the Harleston family, The Sweet Hell Inside, describes how an attractive, young New Yorker, Sue Bailey, then an adminstrator for the YWCA, who later became the wife of prominent black theologian Howard Thurman, came to visit the Harlestons while in Charleston on business. According to Ball, "Teddy" asked her if he could paint her portrait, and his wife Elise photographed her--both images are reproduced in The Sweet Hell Inside. This portrait was one of his last paintings. In February 1931, Harleston learned that he had finally won a Harmon Foundation award; however, he died from pneumonia only three months later.
Harleston's paintings are found in the collections of the Gibbes Museum of Art and the Old Slave Mart Museum, both in Charleston, Fisk University, Howard University, Clark Atlanta University and Dr. Walter O. Evans, Savannah, GA. Ball pp. 282 -283; Botsch, African-Americans and South Carolina: History, Politics, and Culture (online); Reynolds/Wright p. 199.