Dec 15, 2015 - Sale 2402

Sale 2402 - Lot 21

Price Realized: $ 81,250
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 30,000 - $ 40,000

Tempera on paper, mounted to masonite board, 1944. 286x235 mm; 11 1/4x9 1/4 inches. Signed and dated in tempera, lower left. Also signed, titled and dated in ink on a fragment of the original backing paper, taped to the frame back.

Provenance: acquired directly from the artist; William and Louise Patterson, New York (1940s); thence by descent to a private collection, New York.

We believe this exciting find is the first painting by Elizabeth Catlett to come to auction. Paintings from Catlett's New York period, prior to her move to Mexico in 1946, are very scarce. We have located or found records of only 8 other paintings in private collections - many are similar small portraits. Melanie Herzog illustrates three oils, Pensive Portrait, 1945, Woman, circa 1945, and Trash, oil on canvas, 1946, and describes two other paintings, Protection and Margaret and Gayle that are now presumably lost. Herzog additionally lists Black Worker, 1946, and Woman Playing Guitar, 1947, that were shown with the three illustrated works in Catlett's exhibition at the Caribbean Cultural Center in 1996. In 2011, Sharecropper, oil on canvas, 1946 was exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Other known paintings date from her association with the Barnett-Aden Gallery, Washington, DC, and are found today in the Barnett-Aden Collection and the Margaret and John Gottwald collection, Richmond, VA. Their 2012 exhibition at the Virgina Museum of Fine Art Making History 20th Century African-American Art included a tempera painting Hats by Suzy White, circa 1937, and an oil on canvas portrait, Untitled, 1947.

Friends is a wonderful example of Catlett's work from the period, and displays the different influences on American art in the 1940s. The painting's social realism is seen in the intimate view of a couple, and the attention to the fine details of their working clothes. It also shows a growing interest in abstraction with the developed sculptural qualities of their faces. In the early 1940s, Elizabeth Catlett lived in New York between her time in Chicago and teaching at Dillard University. Elizabeth Catlett and her husband Charles White returned to New York in 1943 after he finished a year at Hampton University painting his mural Contribution of the American Negro to Democracy with a Julius Rosenwald grant. Melanie Herzog describes how Catlett's teaching at the George Washington Carver School gave her little time to her own artwork but she continued to paint. Teaching children in Harlem, New York gave Catlett an intimate view of the struggles of working class families, and further added to the social and political consciousness of her artwork. Herzog pp. 36-40 and 190.