Amy Sherald - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.


  • "My artistic process, the impetus of it, is really my life. I think the most interesting work that is being made has that autobiographical affect to it."
    —Amy Sherald


    Weaving autobiography with archetype, memory with imagination, It Made Sense...Mostly In Her Mind is one of Amy Sherald’s most intimate paintings based on an autobiographical subject (see conversation at the National Gallery of Art in 2017 above). Sherald renders in her signature grayscale a young horseback rider holding a unicorn hobby horse set against a richly textured scumbled background—a hallmark of the artist’s most successful paintings from her early career. Painted in 2011, the present work was exhibited on long-term loan since 2012 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and was most recently featured in the groundbreaking HBO documentary, Black Art: In the Absence of Light.


    Amy Sherald with the present work and They Call me RedBone but I’d Rather be Strawberry Shortcake at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, 2017. Image: Emily Haight, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Artwork: © Amy Sherald

    Reimagining Memory


    While alluding to the artist’s personal narrative, the equestrian uniform worn by the figure and the bridled hobby horse grasps an arresting symbolism far beyond the autobiographical: the garb of White privilege and a canonic vision of leisure in which the Black figure has historically been absent. Along with her contemporaries including Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley, Sherald inserts the Black figure into the discourse of a primarily White art history, taking on Marshall’s call to produce “work that needs to be done using the Black figure in painting as a meaningful part of the historical narrative.”i


    Princess Anne with her horse at the Burghley Horse Trials in England in 1971. Image:  Central Press / Stringer / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

    Rather than using the additive power of color to address Blackness in representation, Sherald renders her figures in grisaille, or grayscale, to “exclude the idea of color as race from my paintings by removing ‘color’ but still portraying racialized bodies as objects to be viewed through portraiture.”ii In the present work, the lyrical gradation of gray and nuanced casting of light upon the figure’s visage and hands recall the democratic aesthetic and realism of black-and-white photography, which remains a profound influence in Sherald’s painterly practice. 


    A Magical Realism

    "My work is about taking blackness past the stereotypes and opening it up to the imagination...These paintings exist in the liminal space between fantasy and reality."
    —Amy Sherald

    Devoid of time and space, Sherald’s backgrounds are a signature motif of her realist portraits that function on the brink of abstracted dreamscapes. While the artist has achieved this effect in her more recent works utilizing flat, Barkley Hendricks-esque backdrops, there are a limited number of paintings with mottled backgrounds in her oeuvre. In the present work, the myriad bubble-like speckles that animate the surface generate a striking contrast with the stillness of the figure. 


    Over the course of her early career, Sherald created the speckled backgrounds through complex dripping and scumbling on the canvas—a labor intensive process that would take nearly as long to paint as the figures themselves. Speaking on how she first developed the technique, the artist elucidates, “I was trying to work my way through some ideas, and I actually tried to destroy a painting. I poured turpentine all over it and I just left it on the floor. I came back the next day and there were parts of it that had this speckling effect that I really liked.”iii


    With the artist turning to flat, monochromatic backgrounds soon after her life-changing heart surgery in 2012, It Made Sense...Mostly In Her Mind showcases the peak of Sherald’s painterly language for her richly textured backdrops. In dialogue with memory, reality, and fantasy, It Made Sense...Mostly In Her Mind invites us, in Sherald’s words, “to imagine life outside of the circumscribed stereotype…to see that a more beautiful world exists beyond the confines of your environment.”iv


    Cut from the Archives



    Collector’s Digest


    • Best known for her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Amy Sherald is hailed as a leading contemporary portraitist in America. “I was blown away by the boldness of her colors and the uniqueness of her subject matter....[Amy Sherald] is well on her way to distinguishing herself as one of the great artists of her generation.” – Michelle Obama


    • With many of her paintings already residing in museum collections, the present work is the third painting by Sherald to ever come to auction. Phillips achieved the world record for Sherald most recently in December 2020 in New York, when The Bathers soared to over $4 million—about 20 times the work's high estimate.


    The Bathers, 2015  Achieved $4,265,000 in 2020.
    The Bathers, 2015
    Achieved $4,265,000 in 2020.

    i Kerry James Marshall, quoted in Sam Pollard, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, HBO documentary, 2021.

    ii Amy Sherald, quoted in Victoria L. Valentine, “Portrait of an Artist: Baltimore-based Amy Sherald Wins Smithsonian's Outwin Boochever Competition,” Culture Type, March 26, 2016, online.

    iii Amy Sherald, quoted in Ashley Harris, “4 Questions with Amy Sherald,” National Museum of Women in the Arts, July 30, 2017, online.

    iv Amy Sherald, quoted in Samra Khawaja, “Art Talk with Painter Amy Sherald,” National Endowment for the Arts, July 16, 2016, online.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Washington, D.C., National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2012-2021 (on extended loan)
      Baltimore, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, Amy Sherald: Paintings, September 14 – December 29, 2013

    • Literature

      Joan Cox, "Amy Sherald, In Depth,", November 29, 2012, online (illustrated)
      SHINE: Amy Sherald, Painter, produced by Shine Creative for Bmoreart, December 19, 2013
      "Artists in Conversation: Amy Sherald," National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., May 9, 2017
      Black Art: In the Absence of Light, HBO, directed and produced by Sam Pollard, February 9, 2021

    • Artist Biography

      Amy Sherald

      Amy Sherald reflects on the contemporary African American experiences through her arresting and unearthly paintings. Her grisaille portraits call to the surface unexpected narratives and unfamiliar experiences of the every day, encouraging viewers to reconsider contemporary portrayals and accepted notions of race, representation, and the Black American experience.

      Sherald’s paintings are at once vivid and unassuming, offering silent, unflinching meditations on contemporary lived experience. She renders her sitters in a grisaille tone to disarm preconceived notions and misconceptions of Black identity. Vibrant, mute, and surreal in the ordinariness they portray, her work offers the viewer silence for placid and direct reflection. Sherald’s work has been widely acclaimed as the artist was the first woman and the first African American to win the prestigious Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and in 2019, the museum unveiled her official portrait of First Lady Michele Obama. Sherald’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR; and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, GA.

      View More Works

Property of a Private Collector, with a Portion of Proceeds to benefit the Acquisition, Exhibitions and Endowment Funds of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.


It Made Sense...Mostly In Her Mind

titled and dated ""It Made Sense...Mostly In Her Mind" 2011" on the overlap; further signed and dated "Amy Sherald 2011 Amy Sherald" on the reverse
oil on canvas
54 1/4 x 43 in. (137.8 x 109.2 cm)
Painted in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $3,539,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021