Oct 04, 2018 - Sale 2487

Sale 2487 - Lot 40

Price Realized: $ 72,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 35,000 - $ 50,000
WALTER WILLIAMS (1920 - 1988)
Untitled (Seated Man with Bowed Head).

Oil on linen canvas, 1951. 762x610 mm; 30x24 inches. Signed and dated in oil, lower right, recto. Signed and dated in oil, upper left verso.

Provenance: private collection, New York.

Exhibited: Hemphill Gallery, Washington, DC, with the label on the frame back.

This bold painting is an important, early work by Walter Williams, a very scarce example of an oil painting from the beginning of his New York period. Without formal art training, Brooklyn-born Williams became a painter late in life. In 1951, Williams at the age of 31, with assistance of the G.I. Bill and the encouragement of friends and Michael Freilich of Roko Gallery, enrolled at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. There he studied under the social realists Ben Shahn, Gregorio Prestopino and Reuben Tam, whose influence can be seen in Williams' urban subjects and his direct approach to painting. In 1952, Williams was included in a group exhibition at Roko Gallery, and by 1954, he had his first solo exhibition there. From the late 1940s, Roko Gallery exhibited a number of African-American artists including Charles Alston, Beauford Delaney, Charles White and Ellis Wilson.

The loneliness and despair of life in the city is a recurring early theme in Walter Williams' early 1950s painting. Isolated figures, youth often with downturned heads, are found on rooftops, storefronts, the "El', stoops and fire escape railings in many of his early paintings. Very few of these early 1950s New York oil paintings are known today. There is a closely related canvas of the same size, depicting a young girl on a fire escape, A Quick Nap, 1952, in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and his Poultry Market, 1953, in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. This is the earliest oil on canvas painting by the artist to come to auction. Hanks pp. 8-9.