Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Charles White

May 13, 2014

In the upcoming May 18, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction, Los Angeles Modern Auctions is offering an extremely rare study for a mural by Los Angeles artist and educator, Charles White (1918-1979). Originally from Chicago, White settled in Los Angeles in the late 1950s.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

From Peter Loughery, Director of Modern Design & Fine Art:

“This work by Charles White is the only known preparatory drawing from this important commission to have ever been offered on the open market. This work represents the artist’s swan song to education and pays tribute to one of the most influential African American educators of the 20th century, Mary McCleod Bethune. Mary McCleod Bethune’s own ode to education is so elegantly portrayed in the figures, but also in her statement repeated on either side of the composition. Each of the phrases included in this work help to explain universal truths that cut across all races and creeds.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Detail of signature, Charles White, Untitled (study for Mary McLeod Bethune mural)

White’s interest in learning and the arts began at the age of seven when his mother bought him an oil painting set, and from there, White devoted all of his free time to art. “Art became the most important thing in my life,” said White. By the age of 14 he was hired as a sign painter, which earned him money to pay for his membership in the Arts and Crafts Guild. The group of young black artists collected enough money for a member to take one art lesson at the Chicago Art Institute so he could return to teach the rest of the group what he had learned. White’s single lesson was highly influential to the young artist, and a few years later his hard work and technical prowess earned him a scholarship to the art school in 1937, and three years later an invitation to work for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Arts Project. Through this opportunity, White celebrated the black heroes of the United States in numerous murals, including one of his most famous, Five Great American Negroes (1945) at Howard University where he was artist in residence.

After a life-changing sojourn in rural Mexico, White and his family fled the stifling city life in New York for Altadena, California in 1957. Beginning in 1965, he taught at the Otis Art Institute where he devoted the later years of his life to education, though he found time to paint murals. He established a studio in the now historic Castle Green in Pasadena, an open air room separated from the main building that provided White the cross ventilation and natural light necessary to complete his final mural, Mary McLeod Bethune (1978), still hanging at the Exposition Park Branch of the L.A. Public Library. This preliminary sketch was completed in preparation for the mural, a tribute to Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the most influential African American educators of the 20th century. The sketch and mural both depict Bethune surrounded by a father strumming a guitar, a mother, and a child reading. White labored for nine months to complete the five by seven mural, and having only been paid a modest 3,000 dollars, it is a testament to his lifelong dedication to learning.

Mary McLeod Bethune’s statement on either side of the composition:

“I leave you racial dignity
I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow man
I leave you a respect for the uses of power
I leave you a responsibility to our young people
I leave you love
I leave you hope
I leave you faith
I leave you a thirst for education
I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Detail of inscription, Charles White, Untitled (study for Mary McLeod Bethune mural)

To see this work in person, come to the preview at the LAMA showroom, now open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Lot Information:

Lot 54
Charles White
Untitled (study for Mary McLeod Bethune mural)
Graphite on Vellum paper
Signed and dated lower right; inscribed lower left “Concept mural sketch for Mary McLeod Bethune Branch Library of Los Angeles/Scale 2 Inch One FT (10 by 15 feet)”
Image: 19.75″ x 29.875″; Sheet: 21.5″ x 30.125″; Smaller sheet at bottom: 2.875″ x 30.125″; Frame: 22.625″ x 32.75″
LAMA would like to thank the Estate of Charles White for their assistance in cataloguing this work
Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

For more information, or details on how to bid, please contact a LAMA representative.

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