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Estimate: $ 200,000 - $ 250,000
JOHN BIGGERS (1924 - 2001) Shotguns.
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 1987. 1067x1267 mm; 42x49 7/8 inches.
Provenance: acquired directly from the artist, 1987; private collection.
Exhibited: John Biggers: Patchwork Quilts and Shotguns,Transco Gallery, Transco Energy Company, Houston, TX. January 19 - February 28, 1987; Black Art — Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art, Dallas Museum of Fine Art, Dallas, TX, December 3, 1989 - February 25, 1990; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, May 22 - August 5, 1990, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, September 14 - November 18, 1990, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA; The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, April 2 - September 3, 1995; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC; October 15, 1995 - January 13, 1996, and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, May 19 - July 14, 1996, with the labels on the frame back.
Illustrated: Black Art — Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art, Dallas Museum of Fine Art, Dallas, TX, p. 200, The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, p. 109, fig. 55.
John Biggers's Shotguns is an iconic painting, and arguably the artist's best known work. In the mid-1980s, Biggers reached a new level of complexity and richness in composition, subject matter and symbolism in his paintings. In her essay for the View from the Upper Room, Alvia Wardlaw describes how the 1986 Transco Art Gallery show was his first solo exhibition since retiring and a major turning point in his career. Shotguns embodies these developments and was quickly recognized as a culmination of Biggers's work.
In the same retrospective catalogue, Robert Farris Thompson devotes his introductory essay, "John Biggers's Shotguns of 1987: An American Classic," to this painting. In addition to declaring its "canon" status, Farris describes in great detail the symbolism in this painting, comparing its significance to that of Grant Wood's American Gothic: "As Grant Wood combined the gothic with the pitchfork, confirming habitat and effort with a spare but telling choice of elements, so John Biggers's Shotguns of 1987 is a richly nuanced masterpiece of American painting. Once again, a painter declares a heritage, translating into paint individuals and their architecture. But it is not only the 'shotgun,' perhaps the premier form of African-influenced architecture in the West Indies and the United States that Biggers here declares. On the front porch of each of the five closest shotgun houses appears a key feature of traditional African-American yard art: vessels by the door. They stand for black culture in practical, domestic acts: preparing soap, cooking pork, bathing infants. But they also signify covert spiritual protection, Grant Wood's pitchfork taken underground." Wardlaw pp. 55 and 108.