Ernie Barnes became the surprise star of this year’s May auction season after his painting The sugar shack (1976) set a record $15.3 million at Christie’s New York. Now another work by the artist, Solid Rock Congregation (1993), will be auctioned in a special sale at Bonhams New York on September 9. It is estimated between $500,000 and $700,000.
The artist, who died in 2009, was commissioned to paint The sugar shack as an album cover for Marvin Gaye. A frantic bidding broke out for the work, which eventually reached 76 times its high estimate.
Another painting by the artist which was offered at Bonhams American Art sale in May, The conductor, went for $882,375. This was followed by the June sale at Phillips of life after sunset (1979), which grossed HK$6 million ($768,000).
The Solid Rock Congregation previously belonged to a singer and friend of Barnes, Margaret Bell, who commissioned it and appears in the painting’s depiction of a choir. He has never been seen in public before.
Depicting a typical Southern Sunday church service, the painting is a classic example of Barnes’ energetic compositions filled with a bustling cast of reclining figures. The rhythms of the gospel musicians and singers seem almost audible by the way Barnes has captured their lively movements.
Bell said the work was inspired by a conversation between her and Barnes in 1991. He apparently told her, “After hearing your voice Margaret, I can imagine a wonderful piece, full of color, movement and music. ! If you order me, I will create it for you!
Before becoming an artist, Barnes was also an actor, author and professional footballer. He was born in 1938 in Durham, North Carolina.
The work is currently previewing at Bonhams New Bond Street in London. On July 27, it will be exhibited at Bonham Los Angeles on July 27 before going to Bonhams New York on September 1.
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