Oct 04, 2018 - Sale 2487

Sale 2487 - Lot 63

Price Realized: $ 149,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 150,000 - $ 250,000
HUGHIE LEE-SMITH (1915 - 1999)
Man with Balloons.

Oil on linen canvas, 1960. 914x1168 mm; 36x46 inches. Signed in oil, lower left.

Provenance: collection of the artist, New York; George and Joyce Wein, New York (1988); Joyce and George Wein Foundation, Inc., New York.

Exhibited: Afro-American Artists: New York and Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, May 19- June 23, 1970; Three Masters: Eldzier Cortor, Hughie Lee-Smith, Archibald John Motley, Jr., Kenkeleba Gallery, New York, May 22 - July 17, 1988; Hughie Lee-Smith Retrospective Exhibition, the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ, November 5, 1988 - January 2, 1989; (traveling exhibition), including The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, July 2 - September 24, 1989; Crossing State Lines: 20th Century Art from Private Collections from Westchester and Fairfax Counties, Neuberger Museum of Art, State University of New York, Purchase, NY, March 26 - June 18, 1995; Hughie Lee-Smith: A Retrospective, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, Maine, July 1 - August 1, 1997 (traveling exhibition).

Illustrated: Edmund Gaither, Afro-American Artists: New York and Boston, p. 17; The Crisis, April 1970, front cover; Elsa Honig Fine, The Afro-American Artist, 1982, plate 14, p. 128; Corrine Jennings, Three Masters: Eldzier Cortor, Hughie Lee-Smith, Archibald John Motley, Jr., fig. 10, p. 23; Michael Culver, Hughie Lee-Smith: A Retrospective; Michael Brenson, Classically Ordered Visions Of Displacement and Unease, Review/Art, The New York Times, July 28, 1989, C23; Leslie King-Hammond, Hughie Lee-Smith, plate 33; p. 58.

Hughie Lee-Smith's painting, Man with Balloons, is an important work and one of his best known images. Illustrated in numerous books and widely exhibited, this large canvas is a key work in the artist's oeuvre. It refines his theme of the isolation of modernity with a heightened sense of surrealism. In the 1950s Lee-Smith effectively created a new type of American landscape - an existential, imaginary space inhabited by isolated figures; seen in his 1957, Desert Forms, collection of the the Art Institute of Chicago, where a cloaked woman encounters a man climbing a De Chirico-like tower.

By 1960, Hughie Lee-Smith is working in his mature period, having moved from Detroit to New York two years earlier, and is now showing with the Jane Nessler (formerly the Petite) Gallery. Here the open foreground and rising picture plane brings the viewer into a bright, cinematic scene - inhabited only by two enigmatic men, and, in the distance, a broken ferris wheel. Lee-Smith makes us question what is reality and fantasy - childhood memories and adult alienation resonate in a dream-like vision.

In her 2010 monograph, Dr. Leslie King-Hammond included a wonderful story of the painting. For a book of anecdotes compiled by his wife Patricia to celebrate Hughie Lee-Smith's eightieth birthday, "the collector Richard Clarke recounted a visit to the artist's studio. Lee-Smith had just completed Man with Balloons; he urged Clarke to buy the painting because he felt it was an important work. Clarke passed up the chance....he ruefully wrote that he often awoke in the night, 'to a man with balloons chasing me'." King-Hammond p. 89.