Sep 21, 2023 - Sale 2645

Sale 2645 - Lot 218

Price Realized: $ 8,125
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 4,000 - $ 6,000
A Worker Holding an Orange Sack.

Oil on canvas, circa 1945. 305x205 mm; 12x8 inches. Signed in oil, right center recto.

Provenance: Christie's, New York, September 12, 2006, sale 1699, lot 141; private collection, New York.

Gwathmey (1903-1988) is one of the most celebrated painters of African-American life in the rural South. As an outsider to the African-American communities, his works are that of an observer, picturesque scenes of everyday life without sentimentality, as he managed unbiasedly to imbue humanity and an unromanticized dignity into his subjects.

At the age of 19 he worked on a shipping freighter that visited ports throughout Europe and the Americas. Abroad and at home, Gwathmey's studies and exposure to art taught him more than just style and subject, which he assimilated from the likes of Jean-François Millet's peasant scenes and the macabre imagery of Goya and Picasso; he also learned how to subtly illustrate injustice and societal inequities through his art: "I consider myself a 'social realist.' I'm interested in the human figure and the human condition." His residency in New York from the 1940s on and his travels elsewhere expanded his outlook and provided points of comparison with his early life, especially when he returned to the South, where he was struck by the plight of African Americans. With the onslaught of the Great Depression, Gwathmey, like many intellectuals and artists, was drawn to efforts to reform America's economic and social structure.