Feb 17, 2011 - Sale 2237

Sale 2237 - Lot 14

Price Realized: $ 20,400
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 20,000 - $ 30,000
HALE WOODRUFF (1900 - 1980)
Untitled (Mural Study Depicting Benjamin Banneker).

Oil on masonite, circa 1934. 387x230 mm; 15 1/4x11 inches. Signed in ink, lower left.

Provenance: obtained directly from the artist; private collection.

This early and unrecorded mural study by Hale Woodruff is a fascinating discovery. It shows the popular legend of African-American mathematician, astronomer and engineer Benjamin Banneker presenting city plans for the new capital city before a group that included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. While it is unlikely that such a meeting took place, Banneker was appointed to the group that surveyed the District of Columbia in 1791.

This painting appears to be closely related to a series of four panels painted by Hale Woodruff in 1934 in the collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art. Painted on a similar sized masonite panel, this study is another depiction of an early African-American hero that fits both historically and stylistically into the Chrysler Museum's series depicting the achievements of African Americans in battle. Those four paintings, The Death of Crispus Attucks, Battle at Lake Erie, Negroes with Jackson at New Orleans and Sergeant Carney and the Death of General Shaw, were most likely studies for a large mural project that was never completed. Based on the Chrysler Museum dating, Woodruff painted this panel series before his Mexico trip and study with Diego Rivera in 1936, and before his first major mural commission, the three large Amistad panels for Talladega College created in 1938-39.