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Malvin Gray Johnson

(1896 -  1934 )
johnson malvin gray Along The Harlem River.

Swann Galleries /Feb 13, 2014
29,587.99 - 44,381.98
Not Sold

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Richard L. Brown, Allan Randall Freelon, Meta V. Fuller Warrick, Sargent Claude Johnson, Albert Smith, James Van Der Zee, Edward Mitchell Bannister
Artworks in Arcadja

Some works of Malvin Gray Johnson

Extracted between 2 works in the catalog of Arcadja
Malvin Gray Johnson - Along The Harlem River.

Malvin Gray Johnson - Along The Harlem River.

Original 1925


Lot number: 20
MALVIN GRAY JOHNSON (1896 - 1934) Along the Harlem River. Oil on canvas board, 1925. 305x406 mm; 12x16 inches. Signed in oil, lower right. Provenance: private New York collection. Exhibited: The Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, New York, NY, March 6 - 29, 1925, with entry label pinned to the frame back, signed and inscribed "202 W. 140th St." (the artist's home address) in ink. Illustrated: The Society of Independent Artists, 1925. Of the two paintings, Along the Harlem River and High Bridge, entered by Malvin Gray Johnson, this was the one chosen to be illustrated. Along the Harlem River is a great re-discovery of one of Malvin Gray Johnson's modernist landscapes. Its location was not known at the time of his 2002 North Carolina Central University Art Museum retrospective. This painting shows the growth of modernism in African-American visual art by the mid-1920s. This is also only his second painting to come to auction. Largely due to his sudden death at the age of 38, his 1920s works are extremely scarce--the retrospective located only two out of 60 paintings and drawings. Malvin Gray Johnson painted Along the Harlem River while completing his studies at the National Academy of Art and Design where he studied with Leon Kroll, George Lawrence Nelson, and Ivan Olinsky. In 1925, Johnson was able to find employment that allowed him to take day painting classes with Francis C. Jones and Charles C. Curran. Jacquelyn Francis connects this early Harlem landscape with a similar work by his contemporary Aaron Douglas. Francis writes how this "unlocated" but reproduced painting and Douglas's Power Plant in Harlem, in the collection of the Hampton University Art Museum, both display the Ashcan School influence in their industrial subjects. Johnson's instructor Leon Kroll was also known for "his muscular depictions of industrial New York." This small but bold landscape was painted four years before his iconic work Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, but in many ways is more modern. Relying on just the small black and white catalogue photograph (see illustration), Francis sees his approach "akin to figurally abstract landscapes of the 1930s such as those of Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and William H. Johnson." Swing Low, Sweet Chariot launched his career, and placed him alongside Aaron Douglas and Henry Ossawa Tanner as one of the great African-American painters at that time. But this Harlem landscape establishes that Malvin Gray Johnson was already a modern innovator in 1925. Rodgers pp. 20, 54-55. WITH--A copy of the The Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists catalogue is included. Estimate $40,000 - 60,000
Malvin Gray Johnson - Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Malvin Gray Johnson - Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Original 1928/29


Net Price
Lot number: 11
MALVIN GRAY JOHNSON (1896 - 1934) Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Oil on canvas, 1928-29. 1245x735 mm; 49x29 inches. Signed "GrayJohnson ©" in oil, lower right. Provenance: the artist, New York; purchased by John Wilson Lamb,1929; thence by descent to the current owner. Exhibited: Negro Art, The Harmon Foundation, New York, 1929;traveling exhibition to 11 U.S. cities, February - August 1929;Climbing Up the Mountain: The Modern Art of Malvin Gray Johnson,North Carolina Central University Museum, Durham, NC, Februrary 8 -April, 19, 2002; Challenge of the Modern: African-American Artists1925-1945, Volume I, The Studio Museum in Harlem, January 23 -March 30, 2003, with the exhibition label on the frame back.Climbing Up the Mountain: The Modern Art of Malvin Gray Johnson wasthe first retrospective for the artist and the first time thisnewly re-discovered painting had been shown in over 60 years. Illustrated: Art Digest; The Washington Post; Climbing Up theMountain: The Modern Art of Malvin Gray Johnson, North CarolinaCentral University Museum, Durham, NC, p. 58; Challenge of theModern: African-American Artists 1925-1945, Volume I, The StudioMuseum in Harlem, p. 106, pl. 43. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is not only Malvin Gray Johnson's bestknown work, but is also a very important painting in the history ofAfrican-American visual art at the beginning of the 20th century.This is also his first painting to come to auction. Largely due tohis sudden death at the age of 38, his works are extremelyscarce--his 2002 retrospective located 60 paintings and drawings.Johnson's Swing Low, Sweet Chariot became one of the first modernpaintings to be recorded in the canon of African-American art andculture. It launched his career, and placed him alongside AaronDouglas and Henry Ossawa Tanner as one of the greatAfrican-American painters at that time. According to Mary Ann Calo,Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was "widely celebrated as evidence of theblack artist's potential to make a distinctive contribution toAmerican culture" with "near ecstatic" critical response. Themonthly Art Digest described the painting "as a significant artworld event...worthy of the highest traditions in Americanpainting," and compared its mystical and spiritual themes to AlbertP. Ryder. The evident influences of Tanner and the Renaissance weregenerally overlooked due to the resonance of the painting'semotional and spiritual subject. This painting visually portraysAfrican-American spirituals as popularized by such performers asPaul Robeson and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Johnson himself best describes his intentions in the January 1929Art Digest article: "I have tried to show the escape of emotions which the plantationslaves felt after being held down all day by the grind of labor andthe consciousness of being bound. Set free from their tasks by theend of the day and the darkness they have gone from their cabin tothe river's edge and are calling upon their God for the freedomwhich they long." Calo pp 140-41; Francis pp. 57-63. Estimate $200,000-250,000
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