Dec 15, 2015 - Sale 2402

Sale 2402 - Lot 62

Price Realized: $ 15,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 15,000 - $ 25,000
Untitled (Seated Man at Table with Hammer).

Oil on masonite board, 1960. 914x610 mm; 36x24 inches. Signed and dated in oil, lower right.

Provenance: acquired directly from the artist; private collection, North Carolina.

Born in Sanford, North Carolina, James C. McMillan was encouraged by his college-educated parents to pursue his interest in art. Talented and driven from a young age, McMillan graduated valedictorian from his high school class at the age of 15, and won a scholarship to Howard University in 1941. There McMillan studied under Alain Locke, Loïs Mailou Jones and James Lesesne Wells. Jones became his mentor, arranging for an illustration assistant position with the painter Ralston Crawford, and recommending him for Skowhegan. After Naval service during World War II, McMillan graduated in 1947 and earned a summer fellowship at the inaugural year of the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine, becoming its first African-American fellow. After three years of teaching at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro as the chair of their new art department, McMillan struck out for Paris, following in the footsteps of Jones, and attended the Académie Julian in 1950 on sabattical. McMillan returned to Bennett College in 1951, and then, while on another sabattical, earned his MFA in sculpture from The Catholic University in Washington, DC.

In this striking, imaginary portrait, McMillan portrays a powerfully built man with a striped shirt and handkerchief sitting down for a meal in a dining hall. But this black man is not an ordinary worker, but a slave - he not only holds on to a sledge hammer in one hand, but has a shackle on his other wrist. This expressive painting shows how McMillan's figuration evolved after his social-realism of the 1940s and 50s. McMillan was certainly influenced by the work of other African-American artists, including Charles Alston, Charles White and John Wilson, but here we see the influence of modern European artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Rouault whom he studied while abroad in Paris.

In addition to the private collections that lent to his recent retrospective, McMillan's work can be found in the the collections of Bennett College, North Carolina, Central University Art Museum, Guilford College and Virginia State University. Harris pp. 11-17, 48.