Bill Traylor - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • Bill Traylor’s Untitled (Black and Brown Horse) is an outstanding work by one of the most important American artists of the 20th century, whose enduring legacy was recently subject to the exhibition Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor at The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the first major retrospective ever organized for an artist born into slavery. Within Traylor’s corpus of approximately 1,200 extant works of art, Untitled (Black and Brown Horse) is a rare work, not just for its large scale and singular image, but also for its medium, as one of the few works done on the backs of posters related to the African American community.

    Untitled (Black and Brown Horse) was executed on the verso of a poster advertising The Ink Spots, the famed vocal jazz group who was regularly featured in the U.S. Pop Charts in the 1940s and collaborated with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald. Advertising an upcoming June 4, 1941 concert in Montgomery, Alabama, this poster offers insights into a unique moment in time in which Traylor was creating his distinctive art from often modest materials while sitting on a wooden box on the sidewalk of Monroe Avenue, the center of Montgomery's African-American community.


    Traylor had turned to creating art around 1939, after a long life in which he witnessed the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration. The artist was born into slavery around 1853 on the plantation of George Hartwell Traylor in rural Alabama, staying there as a farmhand and sharecropper well after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and even after some of his children began moving north and east as part of the Great Migration around 1917.
    "One day Traylor picked up a stub of pencil and a scrap of cardboard and began to draw…. He produced hundreds of drawings and paintings that rank among the greatest works of the twentieth century." —Roberta SmithIt was only in in 1928, in his mid-seventies, that Traylor left for the capital of Montgomery where he initially began working at a shoe factory until his rheumatism made any labor impossible. It was around 1939 that Traylor began making drawings and works on paper, usually using found cardboard as paper to record both the past and present in strikingly colored, spare forms that speak of a distinctive vison. These are works that are politically and artistically assertive; they speak of an artist seeking self-definition, a visual storyteller recording a segregated country at the precipice of the Civil Rights movement. 
    "By any measure the twelve hundred or so drawings that are the total known output of Bill Traylor’s brilliant but meteoric artistic moment is unprecedented." —Kerry James Marshall

    It has largely been due to the advocacy and support of Charles Shannon, the young artist who first met Traylor in 1939 and struck a close friendship, that Traylor’s incredible oeuvre is known to the world at large. Shannon not only provided the artist with art supplies and organized the exhibition Bill Traylor: People’s Artist in 1940, he importantly collected and saved many of the over 1,200 works Traylor had made. Untitled (Black and Brown Horse) is among the first works that a private collector acquired from Shannon, before Shannon systematically archived the pieces in grouping them by category and gave them a letter and number. 

    "Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum  



    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.  

    • Provenance

      The Artist
      Charles Shannon, Montgomery
      Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago (acquired from the above circa 1983)
      Harvey Pranian Art & Antiques, Evanston (acquired from the above)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owners

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


Untitled (Black and Brown Horse)

pastel and graphite on the reverse of a repurposed poster
14 x 22 in. (35.6 x 55.9 cm)
Executed circa 1941.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $55,440

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020