Romare Bearden - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips
  • Executed in 1978 as part of the acclaimed Profile series, Sunset Limited from Profile/Part I, The Twenties: Mecklenburg County provides an intimate look into Romare Bearden’s life. Combining personal memories with African American cultural history to serve as the basis for his compositions, Bearden uses the medium of collage to represent pieced-together stories. Each work in the autobiographical series depicts a scene from the artist’s memory and presents the viewer with a look into Bearden’s upbringing. First presented at Cordier & Ekstrom with the rest of the works from Part I of the series, Sunset Limited envisions a scene that is at once imagined and realistic, illustrating the last moment with the artist’s once sweetheart, Liza. In addition to its first exhibition in New York, the present work has been exhibited widely in landmark retrospectives at the Mint Museum, Charlotte, The Studio Museum, Harlem and at the High Museum, Atlanta.


    A detail of the present work.

    Autobiographical Nostalgia


    The autobiographical Profile series illustrates various moments throughout the artist’s adolescence, starting as a child in early 20th century Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and continuing through his moves to Pittsburgh and Harlem. Each artwork corresponds to a chapter in a text, written by the artist’s friend Albert Murray. This combination of word and image is what brings the works to life, resulting in multi-dimensional storytelling that engulfs the viewer as if they were part of each moment. Created in the years after returning to his hometown in North Carolina for the first time in almost 50 years, Sunset Limited specifically depicts the last time where Bearden saw his friend; “the last time I saw Liza was down at the station, when I left for Pittsburgh on the 5:13.” At the center of this memory is the illustration of a typical evening in the American South in the early 1900s – a woman holds a child while tending to her chicken and horses, while the train, inevitably carrying Bearden away from Mecklenburg, jets off in the near distance. Though a seemingly sad moment in the artist’s young life, the composition is imbued with an almost hopeful sense of nostalgia. Through an amalgamation of found images from magazines, the present work uses the collage medium as a window – giving the viewer the opportunity to peer into Bearden’s innermost memories and relate to them.

    “I found that, especially with Vermeer and [Jan] Steen, a lot of the work was controlled, like Mondrian’s, by the use of rectangles over rectangles. I really think the art of painting is the art of putting something over something else.”
    —Romare Bearden

    Bearden’s Collage Practice


    Having first turned to collage in the late 1950s, Bearden used a variety of materials to create constructed landscapes that are at once familiar and imagined. Through the use of different paper cut-outs, Bearden’s memories are collaged over top of one another in a fractured, almost improvisational way, referencing the artist’s deep connections to jazz music. The present work also demonstrates Bearden’s experimentation with Dada collage techniques, something he explored while studying with George Grosz at the Arts Student League in New York. With these influences, Bearden employed a more painterly approach to the medium of collage, layering each form within the composition like brushstrokes on a canvas. Organizing the forms on top of one another also adds an element of depth to the work, creating an almost three-dimensional, whimsical memory within the present work and in the Profile series as a whole.


    The artist in his studio. Image: Image: © Brooklyn Museum / Gift of George Feher / Bridgeman Images



    • Provenance

      Cordier & Ekstrom, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Charlotte, Mint Museum; Jackson, Mississippi Museum of Art; The Baltimore Museum of Art; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; New York, The Brooklyn Museum, Romare Bearden: 1970-1980, October 12, 1980–November 29, 1981, no. 42, pp. 39, 84 (illustrated, p. 84)
      New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Los Angeles, Wight Gallery, University of California; Atlanta, High Museum of Art; Pittsburgh, The Carnegie Museum of Art; Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden, 1940-1987, April 14, 1991–January 4, 1993, pl. XVIII, no. 109, pp. 63, 67, 98, 124 (illustrated, p. 98)
      Charlotte, The Mint Museum; Tampa Museum of Art; Newark Museum, Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections, September 2, 2011–August 26, 2012, fig. 2, pl. 53, pp. 12, 65, 67, 136, 142 (detail illustrated, p. 12; illustrated, p. 67)
      Durham, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Louisville, The Speed Art Museum, Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, September 1, 2016–August 20, 2017, no. 14, pp. 202, 233, 260
      Atlanta, High Museum of Art; Cincinnati Art Museum, “Something Over Something Else:” Romare Bearden’s Profile Series, September 14, 2019–May 24, 2020, no. 21, pp. 98, 130, 148 (illustrated, p. 98)

    • Literature

      Art in America, vol. 68, no. 8, October 1980, pp. 80–81 (illustrated, p. 80)
      Beverly Fazio, Romare Bearden: His Life & Art, New York, 1990, p. 20 (illustrated)
      Jean Toomer, Cane, New York, 1993 (illustrated on the back cover)
      The Art of Romare Bearden, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 2003, p. 107
      Sally and Richard Price, Romare Bearden: The Caribbean Dimension, Philadelphia, 2006, p. 94

    • Artist Biography

      Romare Bearden

      American • 1911 - 1988

      A master of collage, Romare Bearden has become synonymous with his layered scenes of black life – past, present, and imagined. Born in North Carolina in 1911, Bearden was raised in New York in the heart of the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1930s, he studied at the Arts Student League with George Grosz and was involved with 306, a Harlem art school and workshop where his cousin by marriage, fellow artist Charles Alston, was a leading instructor. Though Bearden won major recognitions in his lifetime, Time art critic Robert Hugues proclaimed in 1991 that “Bearden got left out of the history books” – an oversight that has since been rectified with major retrospectives worldwide. In 2003 the National Gallery of Art held a retrospective of Bearden’s work, the first for an African-American artist in the museum’s history, with the exhibition firmly cementing his legacy as one of the great innovators of the 20th century.

      Bearden started making two-dimensional collages in the early 1960s as "an attempt to redefine the image of man in terms of the Black experience”. Bearden’s collages seamlessly integrate painting, magazine clippings and old paper like a jigsaw puzzle into evocative images that fuse snippets of Harlem life with images of the American South, with references to art history, Classical myth, religion and popular culture. "When I conjure these memories, they are of the present to me," Bearden explained. "Because after all, the artist is a kind of enchanter in time." The way Bearden employed collage came out of his life and culture. In a 1977 interview with New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins, Bearden described how as a young man, “I’d take a sheet of paper and just make lines while I listened to records, a kind of shorthand to pick up the rhythm and the intervals.” The improvisational nature of jazz music, Christian iconography, patchwork quilts, rooms wallpapered with old newspaper recalled from childhood summers in North Carolina, his lifelong study of both Western and African art art –all infused in Bearden’s collages.

      Roberta Smith pointed out Bearden’s enduring relevance and unusual “of-the-moment” in her 2011 The New York Times review: “For one thing the improvisational cross-fertilizing of art mediums that Bearden helped pioneer via collage is more and more the norm; for another, paper has probably never been more popular as an art material, for work in both two and three dimensions. Most obviously the scaled-up version of collage that he favored and his propensity for pieced-together, abstraction-infused figures have many echoes in the work of contemporary artists, from Mark Bradford to Anya Kielar to Matthew Monahan.” His enduring legacy also continues to live on in The Studio Museum in Harlem, of which he was an active founding member in 1968.

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Property from an Outstanding Private Collection


Sunset Limited from Profile/Part I, The Twenties: Mecklenburg County

signed “Romare Bearden” upper right; inscribed “the last time I saw Liza was down at the station when I left for Pittsburgh on the 5.13” on the reverse of the frame
collage and mixed media on board
15 1/2 x 20 1/2 in. (39.4 x 52.1 cm)
Executed in 1978.

Full Cataloguing

$220,000 - 350,000 

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023