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The parent organisation of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art snapped up late California artist Robert Colescott’s Miss Liberty (1980) for $3.7m ($4.5m with fees) at Bonhams in Los Angeles on Friday (17 February), marking the latest acquisition for the museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton.
The colourful painting of a woman standing in front of a map of the continental United States was previously held in a private collection and had remained largely unseen since it was painted, a Bonhams spokesperson said. Sharon Squires, Bonhams’s senior director of post-war and contemporary art on the West Coast, said before the sale that the painting “is so significant to an American audience and deserves global attention”.
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The painting achieved the second-highest auction price for a work by Colescott, who died in 2009. His George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (1975) sold for a record-breaking $15.3m (including fees) at a Sotheby’s auction in 2021 to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is scheduled to open in 2025 in Los Angeles.
Shortly after Friday’s sale, Bonhams announced the painting had been purchased by the Art Bridges Foundation, which aims to expand access to American art. Miss Liberty is the latest acquisition for Crystal Bridges, which Walton opened in 2011. The Walmart heiress has used her personal fortune to snap up major works for the museum. In 2005, Walton purchased Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849) for $35m at Sotheby’s after the painting was deaccessioned by the New York Public Library. She outbid the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and set what was then a record for an American artist at auction in the process. Shortly thereafter, Walton announced her plans to open a museum, and since then Crystal Bridges has acquired works from artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko and Kehinde Wiley.
Miss Liberty was the most expensive work in Bonhams’s 71-lot post-war and contemporary art auction, which brought in a total of $5.9m (including fees). The auction also included two works on paper by late American football player turned artist Ernie Barnes, whose market has boomed since last May, when his painting The Sugar Shack (1976) sold for $13m at Sotheby’s New York—more than 76 times its high estimate. At Bonhams, The Sideline (1963) and Study: Woman in Pink Walking (1992) fetched $30,600 (with fees) and $35,655 (with fees), respectively.
The Bonhams sale coincided with Frieze Los Angeles, the major fair that brought dealers and collectors from around the world into the city last week.