Maya Angelou’s Art Collection Sells For Nearly $1.3 Million

Maya Angelou.
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Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Maya Angelou (1993). Photo: Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Maya Angelou (1993).
Photo: Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

A portion of the art collection belonging to celebrated writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who died last year at 86, went to auction yesterday at Swann Galleries. The trove, which includes work by a number of prominent African-American and female artists, sold for almost $1.3 million.

The Art Collection of Maya Angelou” auction featured 43 of over 500 works belonging to Angelou at the time of her death. A highlight is Faith Ringgold‘s 1989 fabric, acrylic, and canvas composition Maya’s Quilt of Life, which depicts Angelou in a lush floral garden, surrounded by writing excerpts including I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. The piece far exceeded its presale estimate of $150,000–$250,000, selling for $461,000, the highest individual price of any work in the sale.

According to the New York Post, the piece was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey on the occasion of Angelou’s 61st birthday.

Faith Ringgold, Maya's Quilt of Life (1989), from Maya Angelou's collection. The pre-sale estimate is $150,000–250,000. Photo: Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

Faith Ringgold, Maya’s Quilt of Life (1989).
Photo: Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

John Biggers‘s 1962 painting Kumasi Market, an oil and acrylic painting that depicts a bustling Ghanaian marketplace, had the second highest price of the day at $389,000, well above its $100,000–$150,000 estimate. A crayon drawing by Biggers called Ethiopian Women also exceeded its estimate of $15,000–$20,000, selling for $37,500.

The auction also included work by Jonathan Green, Romare Bearden, Phoebe Beasley, Elizabeth Catlett, and Jacob Lawrence. All of the works in the auction sold, minus a painting by Angelou herself.

“For my mother, paintings, sculpture, dance and music were ways of translating the intangible into digestible bites; these forms of art were ways of expressing feelings and emotions that resisted the confinement of words,” wrote Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, in the introduction for the sale catalogue. “She appreciated a well-turned, lyrical phrase as much as the lines and contours of a well-sculpted figure, or the transcending brush strokes that accent an image.”

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