A 1993 Painting by Ernie Barnes Just Sold for $1.6 Million, Adding to the Late Artist’s Recent Market Explosion

The artwork, which depicts a lively church scene, soared past its presale high estimate of $700,000 at Bonhams New York.

Ernie Barnes, Solid Rock Congregation (1993). Courtesy of Bonhams.

Few, if any, artists’ markets have blown up in 2022 like that of the late Ernie Barnes—and a sale today only continued the streak. 

During a dedicated single-lot auction at Bonhams New York, a 1993 canvas by Barnes sold for $1.6 million, more than tripling its low pre-sale estimate of $500,000.

The painting, Solid Rock Congregation, depicts a jubilant church scene in the American South. In the right of the composition is the gospel singer Margaret Bell, a friend of Barnes who commissioned the artwork and is shown belting into a microphone. 

Previously unseen by the public, the painting revels in the kind of kineticism for which Barnes, a onetime NFL player who gave up the game to pursue an art career, is best known. 

“This work by Barnes is truly special and it was an honor to be able to give it the moment it deserves,” said Andrew Huber, Bonhams New York’s director, in a statement. “We knew it was going to attract a lot of interest, but I’m truly blown away by the response.” 

It’s not the first time that feverish demand inflated auction results for the artist’s work this year. 

In May, Barne’s The Sugar Shack, a 1976 painting that graced the cover of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You and was shown during the closing credits of the TV show Good Times, sold for an astonishing $15.3 million at Christie’s 20th century art evening sale, surpassing the pre-sale estimate 76 times over. 

Bill Perkins, a Houston-based energy trader, emerged as the winner—then promptly extolled the importance of his new purchase: “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the Mona Lisa,” he told the New York Times after the sale.

Ernie Barnes, November 13, 1964. Photo: Phil Slattery/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

Ernie Barnes, November 13, 1964. Photo: Phil Slattery/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

Other Barnes works that have sold this year include Storm Dance (1977), which fetched $2.3 million at Christie’s New York a day after the Sugar Shack sale in May; Listen Up (1980), which took home $963,000 at Christie’s Hong Kong that same month; and Main Street Pool Hall (1978), which went for $1.8 million at Christie’s London in June. (All figures were taken from the Artnet Price Database.)

Four months ago, Bonhams auctioned off Barnes’s canvas The Maestro (circa 1971), attaching to the artwork an estimate of $25,000 to $35,0000. It went for $80,000.

“Barnes’ career is a testament to a uniquely American spirit,” Huber added in an email to Artnet News. “It has been a privilege to be part of the story of this painting that captures the community and joy that makes Barnes one of the most admired figurative painters of his generation and the headline artist of the 2022 season.”

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