Tintype Portrait of an African-American Woman with Book

In the inaugural sale of African-American memorabilia at Heritage Auctions (Dallas, Texas), a tintype of an African-American woman holding a book sold for $525.00.  The sale took place on January 15, 2019.

From the auction catalog:

Tintype of an African-American Woman.
2.5″ x 3.75″
No place; no date

An austerely dressed seated woman holding an open book. The image is reasonably sharp and beautifully shows her dress, collar, chain accessory, and facial expression.

Condition: Condition is good, with a few spots and scratches to the surface, none of which seriously mar the image. There is some wear at the top left edge, as well as some adhesive residue at the bottom left corner.

What interests me about this image is that she is holding a wide-open book in her left hand.  Although images of this genre are not particularly rare, I am intrigued by the sitters very direct gaze at the viewer.

Though we have the absence of a location and date on this image the presence of the book suggests that her portrait is at least partially designed by her own self.  I make this assertion because during the nineteenth-century African Americans sought to take ownership over their image, and the appearance of the book is a marker of self-determination in the area of literacy, education, and full-citizenship.    Her fashion is also particularly smart — a full, delicately collared dress with a tailor-like fitting.

Looking forward to seeing the development of this Heritage sale category.

Unknown Harriet Tubman portrait owned by 19th century Quaker teacher of freed blacks

This unknown image of Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913) at approximately 48 years of age was among a total of forty-four carte-de-visite photographs found in the album of Quaker school teacher, Emily Howland (1827-1929).  The album was presented “To Miss Emily Howland, from her Friend Carrie Nichols, January 1st, 1864, Camp Todd, Virginia.”  Ms. Howland, whose parents were Quaker abolitionists in New York,  was a teacher at Myrtilla Miner’s School for Economically Stable Black Females in Washington during the antebellum period, and served escaped slaves in a contraband camp during the Civil War.

The album is found in the collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian.  This portrait of Harriet Tubman was made by photographer, Benjamin F. Powelson (1823 – 1885), Auburn, New York.

The album (lot 75) sold at Swann Auction Galleries’s sale of Printed and Manuscript African Americana (March 30, 2017) for $ 161,000 (including buyer’s premium).  The sales estimate was $20,000-30,000.  The Tubman image is the cover of the sale catalog.

H-Tubman
Benjamin F. Powelson, Carte-de-visite portrait of Harriet Tubman, 1868-1869

Black Schools

Black schooling, during the period of Reconstruction, occurred in various locations of the rural south: churches, homes, work-locations, etc. School buildings were constructed from limited resources through collaborations with parents, missionary associations, and civic and church leadership. This image is of a colored school in rural Louisiana (no date).  Although this image may appear to capture an integrated school (not uncommon but fewer in number than all-black schools) some of the students maybe mixed-race, or descendent of mixed race parents.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Colord School” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 8, 2018.

Charlotte L. Forten Grimke (1837-1914)

Forten wrote in her diaries on the fortitude of freed people to receive education: “how a people who have been so long crushed to the earth, so imbruted as these have been can have so great a desire for knowledge, and such a capability for attaining it.”

Charlotte Forten [Grimke], born into a prominent Free Black family in Philadelphia, came to Port Royal, South Carolina in 1862. She taught the newly freed people for a couple of years before returning North due to declining health. In 1878 she married the much younger Rev. Francis Grimke, nephew of ardent abolitionists Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke Weld. (Beaufort District Collection, Beaufort County Library)

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Lottie Grimke" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 1, 2018.

Black Education – Nineteenth Century

This photograph is a model of the more commonly held image of black education in the era of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Taken shortly after the end of the Civil War, the image suggests the leadership of white women and the participation of black children in educational pursuits. Recent scholarship has emphasized the contributions of black teachers (women and men), black soldiers, and black parents in supporting and leading the cause of black education.
Portrait of teacher Laura M. Towne, a founder of the Penn School, with students Dick, Maria and Amoretta. 1866

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

Recent Photography Sales at Auction

End of September and October generated a small listing of photographs by black photographers at auction with Swann Auction Galleries and Phillips.  Here’s a quick round-up of the results.

Swann’s October 6th African-American Art Auction
Photographs by James Van Der Zee (1886-1983) were featured at Swann Auction Galleries, October 6th sale of African-American Art.  Portraits of the Barefoot Prophet (Lot 9) and Hazel Scott (Lot 10) were sold at auction estimates, $2,860 and $ 3,250.  And a portfolio of eighteen (18) silver gelatin and sepia prints (Lot 11) sold for $ 87,500, surpassing the auction estimate of $30,000 – 50,000.  From the online catalogue: A handsome portfolio, published by Harry Lunn, Jr., with iconic images from VanDerZee’s photographic career. It includes various subjects of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as studies of Marcus Garvey, Daddy Grace, and formal family portraits.

Prentice Herman Polk (1898-1985), Lot 14, a portfolio of eleven (11) prints featuring such commonly published images as The Boss (1932), and The Pipe Smoker (1932) sold for $ 13,750.  From the online catalogue: Edition of 60 numbered copies. Each signed in ink, lower right. Signed and numbered 18/60 on the title page of the introduction. Published by South Light, Gladewater, Texas in 1981.

Lot 67, Boy and H, Harlem (Stickball) by Louis Draper (1935-2002) sold for $3,000 its low estimate.  Draper was a founding member of Kamoinge, a New York-based black photographers collective, active 1963 to the present.

M33797-1 002

Carrie Mae Weems’ (1953-) work represented in Lots 142, Mirror, Mirror, and Lot 165, Tell me, I beseech you, when I casted my vote to you, did I cast it to the wind?, sold for $ 25,000 and $2,000 respectively.  Each realized the low estimate.

Phillips’ Photographs Evening & Day Sale, October 5 & 6 featured Roy DeCarava’s Arnette, NY, Lot 103, which sold for $ 16,250, the auction estimate.

arnette-ny

Recent Sales of Work by Black Photographers

Just a quick round-up of recent sales of works by black photographers that came to auction.

At the April 7, 2016 Swann Galleries auction of African-American Fine Art, Carrie Mae Weem’s Blue Black Boy was sold for $40,000 (hammer price), the low estimate for this lot.  From the Colored People series, the work consists of a triptych of three toned gelatin silver prints with text and frame, dated 1987-88.  This work is part of an edition of 3.  The artist printed a single image of this work in an edition of 5 in 1997, an example of which sold at Sotheby’s April 1, 2015 for $25,000.

BlueBlackBoy.png

I like to see examples of artist portraits of other artists.  This portrait photograph of Maya Angelou is particularly striking and fetched an impressive sale price of $ 14,000 (hammer price), 14 times the low estimate.  The work was sold at the September 15, 2015 sale of The Art Collection of Maya Angelou at Swann Galleries.  Photographed by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, the 1993 silver print is hand colored measuring 10 x 10 1/2 inches.

Maya Angelou

American Gothic, one of Gordon Park’s most famous images, sold at Be-Hold, October 22, 2015 for $ 2,600.  The 1942 image was printed in 1991 and measures 10 x 7 1/8 inches on a 13 x 11 inch sheet.  The photograph sold above its high estimate.

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