Amy Sherald - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, December 7, 2020 | Phillips

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  • "I look at America’s heart—people, landscapes, and cityscapes—and I see it as an opportunity to add to an American art narrative."
    — Amy Sherald

    Artwork © Amy Sherald
    Amy Sherald photographed with the present lot at Off The Chain: American Art Unfettered, Second Street Gallery, May 2015. Artwork © Amy Sherald

    Tributes to the contemporary Black experience, Amy Sherald’s paintings of everyday African Americans subvert the conventional genre of portraiture to show a more complete picture of humanity. Her figures—in this case, two young bathers—gaze directly at us with a confident disposition that exudes timelessness, asserting their presence in a medium and traditional subject matter that has historically ostracized non-white artists and sitters. A rare image for Sherald in that it depicts two sitters, The Bathers is one of the finest works by the artist in private hands, showcasing her idiosyncratic aesthetic of fashionable gray-scaled figures represented against Barkley Hendricks-esque monochromatic expanse.


    Nearly life-size, Sherald’s paintings such as The Bathers are typically hung low to the ground so that the figures’ faces are approached at eye level. “This creates the impression of meeting face to face, in an experience of mutual evaluation,” Roberta Smith expressed. “With the paintings given plenty of room, they invite close, exclusive looking, a kind of communion.”i 

  • Paintings by Amy Sherald in Museum Collections

  • An Exacting Process

    Producing on average only 13 paintings each year, Sherald meticulously plans each aspect of her compositions. She first selects African Americans that she encounters in her everyday life—in grocery stores, on buses, on the street—who embody a certain je ne sais quoi that only Sherald can perceive. “When I choose my models,” the artist elucidated, “it’s something that only I can see in that person, in their face and their eyes, that’s so captivating about them.”ii 


    The present lot installed at Amy Sherald, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, May 11 – August 19, 2018.
    The present lot installed at Amy Sherald, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, May 11 – August 19, 2018.

    However, she doesn’t always proceed immediately; Sherald takes down the stranger’s email address before sometimes waiting up to a year to begin the portrait. She then chooses the subject’s outfit—often from his or her own closet—and photographs the sitter outside in order to capture the effect of natural light on the textures of Black skin. Thinking intuitively about color and compositional balance, Sherald carefully decides how to represent each element—leading to slightly thicker applications of paint in some parts of The Bathers, such as the left woman’s hair bow and the right’s swim cap.

    "I paint because I am looking for versions of myself in art history and in the world."
    — Amy Sherald
    During a year spent studying under renowned Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum, Sherald learned the classical modelling technique of rendering figures in grisaille—or grayscale. This detail also points to her attraction to vintage black-and-white photography, a democratic medium that has the capacity to “narrate a truer history that counters a dominant historical narrative,” according to Sherald.iii In short, it marks the moment when Black people—historically excluded from other forms of portraiture—became included in American visual culture. “Photography was the first medium I saw that made what was absent, visible,” she continued. “It gave people who once had no control over the proliferation of their own image the ability to become authors of their narratives.”iv

  • Bathers in Modern Art History

  • Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.


    The present work arrives at auction from the collection of pioneering Virginia-based philanthropists Pamela and William Royall, prominent collectors of 20th century and contemporary art in the American South. The collection reflects their broad interests, from well-known artists from the 20th century to emerging and established Black artists. Committed arts patrons and forces of change in Richmond, the Royalls spearhead the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s recent acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s sculpture Rumors of War as board members of the institution and were instrumental to the museum’s expansion of the diversity of its collection. Believing in a vision of greater inclusivity for Richmond, the Royalls established a non-profit art gallery for the collection, Try-me, which was open without charge to the public, which fostered a space for local artists and education. 

  • Cut from the Archives


    Collector’s Digest


    • Sherald’s work has been subject to blossoming commercial and institutional interest since she was selected to paint former First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C


    • As a significant proportion of the artist’s paintings are already held in museum collections, only one of her paintings have been offered at auction, which soared above estimate to achieve $350,000 in 2019.

  • Innocent You, Innoocent Me, 2016  
    Achieved $350,000 in 2019.


    i Roberta Smith, “Amy Sherald’s Shining Second Act,” The New York Times, September 12, 2019, online.

    ii Amy Sherald, quoted in Amy Sherald, exh. cat., Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 2018, p. 14.

    iii , iv Amy Sherald, quoted in Hauser & Wirth, “Amy Sherald: the heart of the matter…,” press release, September 10, 2019.

    • Provenance

      Second Street Gallery, Charlottesville
      Acquired from the above by the present owners in 2015

    • Exhibited

      Charlottesville, Second Street Gallery, Off the Chain: American Art Unfettered, Amy Sherald, May 1 - 30, 2015
      Bethesda Gallery B, Bethesda Painting Awards Exhibition, June 1 - 25, 2016
      Baltimore, Creative Alliance at the Patterson, About Face, December 10, 2016 - January 28, 2017
      Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Bentonville, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Atlanta, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Amy Sherald, May 11, 2018 – May 18, 2019, p. 34 (illustrated, n.p.; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 2018, installation view illustrated, n.p.)

    • Literature

      Philip Kennicott, “Painting Michelle Obama brought Amy Sherald fame. Now, the artist wants to make works ‘to rest your eyes.’”, The Washington Post, May 14, 2018, online (illustrated)

    • 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 from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.


The Bathers

signed and dated "Amy Sherald 2015 Amy Sherald" on the reverse
oil on canvas
72 1/8 x 67 in. (183.2 x 170.2 cm)
Painted in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $4,265,000

Contact Specialist

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


20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020