Painting from Black artist Alma Thomas sells for record $2.8 million
A particularly rare painting by Afro-American artist Alma Thomas, which until recently was in a museum in South Carolina, sold for a record $ 2.8 million – and its buyer remains a mystery.
Until a few months ago, the painting “Alma’s Flower Garden” hung in the Greenville County Museum of Art.
The painting was to be one of the cornerstones of a traveling exhibition about Thomas’ life and work, including her youth in Columbus, Georgia, her years in Washington, DC, and her transition from a middle school art teacher to an artist on her own work. In the early 1970s, at the age of 81, Thomas became the first black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
Her work – often abstract paintings with patterns and bold colors – became known to a wider audience during President Barack Obama’s tenure after First Lady Michelle Obama discussed adding Thomas’ painting “Resurrection” to the Old Family Dining Room on the White State Floor House.
The Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful touring exhibition opens in July at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. The organizers recently decided on details of the pieces to be included when they learned that “Alma’s Flower Garden” had been sold, said Jonathan Walz, one of the traveling exhibition’s co-curators.
Walz works at the Columbus Museum in Georgia in Thomas’ hometown, where the traveling exhibition will close in the summer of 2022.
Walz said the painting was sold and didn’t know who was “like a bomb”.
“It’s sad to think that a piece like this could just go away,” he said. “It is especially important that the work of Alma Thomas as the work of an African American artist is available to the public. If it is included in a private collection, it is devastating.”
“Almas Blumengarten”, acrylic on canvas, which was painted sometime between 1968 and 1970, is particularly rare, said Walz, because it was painted for Thomas during a “transitional, experimental period”. It is one of Thomas’ only known pieces, he said, in which Thomas painted something personal for her – her garden in Washington, DC.
The Greenville News, part of the USA Today Network, left several phone messages with staff at the Greenville County Museum of Art to learn more about the Thomas painting and its status.
The museum confirmed the sale of the painting in a statement emailed to The Greenville News, saying that the sale of “Alma’s Flower Garden” broke an earlier record for Thomas’ work.
Museum spokeswoman Paula Angermeier said in the email that the museum’s board of directors unanimously approved the deactivation of the Thomas painting in October.
“About a month after the deactivation, an interested buyer representative called the GCMA and asked if the museum was interested in selling the Thomas painting,” wrote Angermeier. “The agreed price was 2.8 million, surpassing Thomas’ auction record by $ 200,000. Confidentiality was a condition of the sale. The GCMA does not know the identity of the buyer.”
Angermeier said “Alma’s Flower Garden” was sold to “support additional art purchases,” including a newer Thomas piece, according to the museum’s usual guidelines. The sale was unrelated to temporary coronavirus pandemic-triggered guidelines by the Association of Art Museum Directors that allow museums to sell pieces to pay for other operating expenses, she said.
Prior to the sale of Alma’s Flower Garden, the highest known price for a Thomas painting was $ 2,655,000 for A Fantastic Sunset, according to Christie’s UK auction house.