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    James Lesesne Wells (American, 1902-1993)
    Wanderers, circa 1930
    Oil on canvas
    18-1/4 x 24-1/2 inches (46.4 x 62.2 cm)

    The Soul of a Nation: Black Art from a Distinguished Collector

    Amero Auctions, Sarasota, Florida, May 30, 2020, lot 55;
    Acquired by the present owner from the above.

    Harmon Foundation at the Art Center, New York, "Exhibition of the Work of Negro Artists, February 16-28, 1931, no. 111, Gold Medal Recipient.

    Harmon Foundation at the Art Center, Exhibition of the Work of Negro Artists, New York 1931, p. 24, no. 111, illustrated.

    This lot is accompanied by an original copy of the 1931 Harmon Foundation exhibition catalog in which the work is illustrated, along with a photocopy of a contemporary newspaper article related to the exhibition.

    James Lesesne Wells (1902-1993) was an American painter and graphic artist of African descent. He was also a professor at Howard University for 39 years and founded the graphics art department. He was considered a pioneer in modern art education. Wells studied at Lincoln University and transferred to Columbia University where he majored in art. As a student at Columbia, Wells was dramatically impacted by the first ever exhibition of African art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. This marked a turning point not just in museum exhibition history but for Wells' approach to his work. He was also influenced by the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer and the German Expressionists--Ernst Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Oto-Muller and Emile Nolde. Contrary to his peers at the time, he considered printmaking a major art form. He wanted the ideas in his work to be accessible at large and to Black people. Wells' art depicted the plight of African Americans during the Great Depression. Compounding their struggle, Black people had to deal with institutional racism and discrimination. Wells not only reflected the realities of his time in his art, but he also participated in protests against segregation.

    Wells "Wanderers" received the Gold Medal at the Harmon Foundation's 1931 "Work of
    Negro Artists" exhibition. The painting depicts three African American women migrating, which could have been to the North, Mid-West or the West, from the Southern states. African Americans began to carve out their own place in these new cities and fought against racism in an effort not only to establish homes for themselves but lives which were enriched by Black culture, art and music. The "Wanderers" depicts the great migration of Black people to new cities for economic opportunities and a better quality of life. The title of this piece 'Wanderer' is Wells' statement that Black people in America were unwanted peoples in a country that did not respect their humanity despite their contributions.

    Halima Taha, writer, arts & cultural strategist, and author of Collecting African American Art: Works on Paper and Canvas
    © Halima Taha/Tahathinks 2021

    Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000.

    Condition Report*: Unlined canvas. Under UV exam, there does appear to be inpaint in the trees in the upper right and left corners. Moderate craquelure with small areas of loss, the largest being a 1/4 inch loss in the center. Faint stretcher br lines visible along left edge.
    Framed Dimensions 22.5 X 28.5 Inches
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