Published: June 5, 2020
NEW YORK CITY—African-American artist Richmond Barthé (1901 – 1989) set an artist auction record at Swann Galleries’ African-American Fine Art sale June 4 when his bronze sculpture “Feral Benga” sold for $629,000 on a $60,000 high estimate.
The result was seven times higher than Barthe’s previous record, which was set by Swann Galleries in October 2017 at $87,500. It was also the highest price for a sculpture sold in an African-American Art sale by the firm.
Sale director Nigel Freeman told us, “We had a number of interested parties who together swiftly bid the lot up to around $100,000, but the bidding quickly became a battle between two very determined collectors. ‘Feral Benga‘ is the sculptor’s best known work and a notable artwork from the Harlem Renaissance making it a desirable work for collectors.”
The bronze sculpture of a nude African-American male holding a raised sword, with a dark brown patina, measures 19 inches high and is from an edition of 10 recasts executed in 1986 under the supervision of the artist and the Richmond Barthé Trust. This is number 1 of 10. Only two are known from the original 1935 cast.
The auction house wrote that “Feral Benga” is “a natural and sensual representation of the male nude, made at the height of his career.” The original sculpture was shown at the 1937 Dance International exhibition at Rockefeller Center, New York City, and was later illustrated in The Negro in Art by Alain Locke.
Margaret Rose Vendryes, who wrote Barthé, A Life in Sculpture (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), said the artist created the sculpture months after seeing Benga perform on stage at Paris’ Folies Bergères in 1934.
A full review of Swann Galleries’ African-American Art sale will appear in a future issue.
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