New York – A masterpiece by American artist Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) depicting a lively Sunday church service will hit the auction block this fall at Bonhams New York, following a summer tour to London and Los Angeles. A breakout star of the spring season, Barnes’ Solid Rock Congregation (1993) is another exemplary painting from his oeuvre depicting an energetic, multi-figure composition with strong emotional resonance. Barnes conveys the euphoric, rhythmic music deeply rooted in gospel churches of the American South, painting a Sunday morning church scene brimming with people singing, dancing, and playing instruments through his unique painting style capturing movement and passion. Estimated at $500,000 – 700,000, Solid Rock Congregation will be offered in a single lot live auction on September 9 in New York.
The work has never been seen by the public before and has resided with American gospel singer Margaret Bell who commissioned the painting and is depicted in the work singing into the microphone. Ms. Bell was friends with Barnes after meeting him through the NFL that her then husband, Keith Byars, who like the artist played football in the NFL. After releasing a record with Warner Alliance Records in 1991, Ms. Bell recalls sitting in Barnes studio and him saying, “After hearing your voice Margaret, I can envision a wonderful piece, full of color, movement and music! If you commission me, I will create it for you!”
Barnes dedicated himself full-time to art, after his professional football career, and became a leading 20th century artist. He is known for elongated figures, capturing his observations of African American life growing up in North Carolina and living in Los Angeles. Barnes’ work has appeared throughout pop culture on album covers, in television and movies, and he was the official artist of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Featured on the album cover of The Crusader’s Ghetto Blaster from 1984, Barnes’ painting The Maestro, was recently sold at Bonhams American Art sale for $882,375.
“Following the success of The Maestro, Bonhams was pleased to learn about this unknown work that is clearly a masterpiece by the artist,” commented Andrew Huber, Senior Specialist and Head of Sale for Post-War & Contemporary Art at Bonhams New York, “and we are thrilled to show it to the public for the first time.”
The work is currently on preview at Bonhams New Bond Street in London and will head to Bonhams Los Angeles on July 27, then reach its final stop at Bonhams New York starting September 1 and will be previewed alongside two contemporary art exhibitions from the Post-War & Contemporary department.